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When I sit down with artist Jonathan Plante to talk about his new exhibition, we talk about a lot of things. A lot of serious things. We explore the density of European art movements. We discuss technology shifts. The dawn of motion picture. Austerity. Modernity. Perspectives. "But," Mr. Plante cuts in during our conversation, "firstly, this exhibition is a very stupid proposal." And I remember that I took this photo of myself at the gallery, and yeah, I see what he's saying.
"Yeah, I designed those," he tells me. "I made them one by one. At the opening, it was beautiful to see everyone with those big glasses." I wish I had been there to see that. I really do. A swank opening of an art exhibition (in Westmount of all places) and everyone wearing a seven-year-old's robot goggles. Stupid and beautiful. Parallaxe, Mr. Plante's latest exhibit at Galerie Division, was excellent at this kind of juxtaposition; where, stuck to the wall, the serene and the absurd hold hands and watch you react.
Jonathan Plante is a young, Montreal-based artist who has studied mainly here at Concordia, and at De Ateliersin Amsterdam. He's shown at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. He's soft-spoken but enthusiastic about what he does, and articulate about it as well. Parallaxe was shown during the month of February at Galerie Division.
In this exhibition, Mr. Plante's work primarily explores anaglyphs, you know where an image is doubled, layered over itself and shifted slightly, one red and one blue. And, when seen through a pair of red-and-blue glasses, it creates a three dimensional effect on a two dimensional object. You know it. It's sprinkled throughout your childhood like dandelions. In his series titled Famille De Stijl, Mr. Plante uses this ageing but modern medium to present 19th-century portraits. Portraits that just fell into his hands. But, I'll just let him tell the story:
While I was in Amsterdam, I was taking photos outside one day, and there was a woman who saw me taking photos. I don't know how she deduced that I was not a tourist, but she did. And she said, "Are you a photographer," and I said yeah, and she said, I have something to show you. So I followed her and she showed me some photos that she kept from her roommate that died, and they were huge photographs of 19th century portraits, like family portraits. So I thought it was amazing, and we talked a bit, and she said, if you can do something with these, take them. A total stranger.So take them he did.
Practically, an anaglyph is a very technical object. The two images have to be identical, the lines perfect, the shift precise, to create the most effective three dimensional experience. As you might expect, a computer does the trick nicely. Mr. Plante, on the other hand, uses watercolour. "I started doing these portraits in red and blue in pastels, and it was working. I love this weird thing between the technology and the medium, and the representation of the technology by a traditional medium, and I switched to watercolour because it was even more absurd because watercolour is the most subjective thing, so the two over-lapping portraits are obviously very different." The effect is surreal. When you look at the portraits with red-blue glasses, you certainly don't get the standard three dimensional effect, but a more subtle, skewed, hesitant three dimensional effect (sometimes wearing the glasses upside-down is more convincing). It's ghostly. Which is perfect because Mr. Plante is trying to show how subjective technology can be. He wants to suggest that precision can often be more misleading than uncertainty. That sometimes, the more information you've got in your pocket, the harder it is to find your keys. "If I wanted the three dimensional effect to work, I would have never done it with watercolour. I would have done it with Photoshop, or with photos. This is the most stupid and absurd way to do 3D. Obviously with watercolour it doesn't work, but just enough to know that it does, and it doesn't."
|Composition 2 (Famille De Stijl) Watercolour on paper, 24" x 18" 2010. Image courtesy Galerie Division|
In calling this series Famille De Stijl, Mr. Plante is referencing the early 20th-century Dutch art movement De Stijl, where the artist takes a subject and removes all the information you need to understand it, resulting in basic primary colours and immensely simplified composition. Mr. Plante did the same thing with these portraits. He stripped them of colour and form and this, argues Mr. Plante, ultimately creates a more substantial rapport between the portraits and the observers. "An abstraction is always something you relate to in time, and at the end, there is an identity to it, you relate to it. And I find the same thing with these portraits. You don't know the person, but with time you relate to the portrait, you create a relationship with that figure. The figure becomes something personal."
|Composition 6 (Famille De Stijl) Watercolour on paper, 24" x 18" 2010. Image courtesy Galerie Division|
But Parallaxe is more than just these resurrected portraits. Much more. There's Open Widow, a video Mr. Plante put together that is thick in historical art context. In the video, also done using anaglyphs, Mr. Plante himself approaches Marcel Duchamp's masterpiece The Large Glass and opens the window. Mr. Plante explains to me that this gesture was meant to "air out modernity," to allow a new perspective on a definitive modern sculpture. The anaglyph provides a nice tweak on the piece as well. The title refers to sexual aspect of the piece. I won't get into it too much, but the top half of Duchamp's masterpiece houses a lonely bride, the bottom half her nine bachelors. Duchamp left them separated for all of time, until Mr. Plante decided that the window needed to be opened and the bride reunited with her bachelors. It's a declaration of a video; a bold anthemic gesture.
|Still from Open Widow Animation Video Edition of 3, 2010. Image courtesy of Galerie Division|
And then there’s the one that grew on me. Titled, A Rose is a Rose is a Rose, this sculpture is literally sitting on the floor of the gallery, like it's growing there. Mr. Plante did this sculpture using anaglyphs too, offsetting the blue and red rose. So, ahem, it's a three dimensional sculpture in 3D. You don't get much more absurd than that. Once I realized that, the piece gained massive points with me. And Mr. Plante's explanation helped too. The red rose is obviously a symbol for love. The blue rose, on the other hand, doesn't exist naturally. You have to use dyes or genetic modification to get a blue rose. In other words, it's technology. Or virtuality. It's "unachievable and achievable at the same time," as he puts it.
|A Rose Is A Rose|
Is A Rose Pigmented clay 28" x 10" x 8" 2010. Image courtesy Galerie Division
Another excellent piece in Parallaxe is Palindrome, a short (quite possibly, endless) video loop of a simple horse running. The piece has its roots in the fabled 19th-century debate over whether or not a horse's feet leave the ground when it's running. Leland Stanford took it upon himself to prove, using then-current photography techniques, that yes, all hooves are off the ground at one point. The discovery did much more than just answer this question; it may have invented motion-pictures. The video Mr. Plante created, using scotch tape, reflects on this story. He took the basic image of the running horse, and reversed the legs. So the body goes one way while the legs go the opposite. "At first it was very scientific. It had nothing to do with art." If Mr. Plante can't contextualize art historically, no one can. "Stanford was deconstructing the movement of the horse. He was trying to get the true, exact movement. As for me, I'm trying to do the opposite. I'm trying to not deconstruct, but reconstruct it... So basically I'm doing an animation with the image that he did, but instead of being scientific and true, I am trying to bring it to total subjectivity... And it's very subtle, but what it says about technology and progress is that it's a moving image, but it's still." Right, a palindrome. Technology can go forwards or backwards, but in the end, you end up right where you began. It's a demanding but poignant critique of progression as static. That technology is basically an oxymoron.
Parallaxe basically refers to vision and perspective. It means the shift of the position of the observer in relation to the thing being observed, which creates a shifting perspective and a shifting vision. It's downright scientific; early astronomy relied on it and it's integral to technology like microscopes, binoculars and computer screens. But, just like the running horse, Mr. Plante plucks this idea from the tree of science and bakes an art-pie with it. "Vision itself is parallax because we have two eyes, we see in stereo. And we have approximately 6 cm between our eyes, which means that our eyes never see the same thing. We have two different images but the brain makes one image. For me, Parallaxe is the space between, the space between the two images, the blue and the red, and the shift that exists. And of course the shift between what you see and what you understand in reality." Parallaxe is an excellently thoughtful exhibit, full of context and humour. If its intent was to shift perspectives on the technologies we rely on for information, then well done Mr. Plante. If its intent was to make me look stupid in upside-down space goggles, it did that. If it was intended to make me laugh, it did that too.