March 2, 2011

Parallaxe, Jonathan Plante at Galerie Division by Greg Stone

Galerie Division
1368 Greene Avenue
+1 514 938 3863

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.

The author

"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.

February 28, 2011

Éric Cardinal: Histoires Improbable, Jocelyn Philibert, Laurent Craste: Abuse, Subvertion at Galerie SAS By Meaghan Thurston

Galerie SAS
372 Ste Catherine ouest #416
+1 514 878 3409
January 27th to March 5th 2011

One Criticism Sandwich: Hold the Art Babble

"A lot of my work is about not being able to do something well... it tries to locate itself in a place where the appreciation of craft is not a part of the appreciation of the piece", Richard Tuttle (a kick-ass minimalist artist, in case you didn’t know) said in a recent interview.

During the writing of this review of the work of Éric Cardinal, whose show Histoires Improbables is currently at Gallerie SAS, I repeated under my breath Mr. Tuttle's refreshingly frank words — to no avail. Apologies from the outset, it's hard to review a show that you didn't like without descending into a ridiculous discourse of just plain negativity about the works, so I'll start with detailing what was interesting about it.

Ink Drawing: Fungus no. 2 (2011) India ink and pencil, 32 x 44 in

Mr. Cardinal's large scale India ink drawings appear as abstract geometric designs from afar. But, when you get up close an orgy of Disney figures, M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, and Goofy and maybe even Donald Duck is revealed. I was particularly taken aback by Histoires improbables no. 6.

Histoires improbables no. 6 (2011) India ink, - 32 x 44 in

Which uncannily is almost exactly like the dream I have when I'm about to get sick. In case you don't know what I mean by that, I'll explain. I've had this dream repetitively since a child. Two cartoon characters inaudibly talk at me, and then get into a rolling fist fight as the words, "POW!" and "BANG!" appear above their heads. Next morning, "WHAM!" I've got a cold. But, I digress. M. Cardinal's Histoires exposes that awkward anthropomorphic mouse for what he is — a mutant. Not simply a character in animated cartoons and comic strips, but as virulent and contagious as the common cold. Titles, Fungus no. 2 (once I found some tofu in the back of my fridge growing mould that looked something like this) and Effigies make no effort to hide M. Cardinal's grudge against the never-ending and constant increase of images of the Mouse of Capitalism.

How best to describe Mr. Cardinal's sculpture? 'Mutilated religious kitsch' and 'I definitely thought I saw a dildo in one of them' are two phrases that spring to mind. For all the crafting that went into them, and while normally I'd be interested by the idea of a garden-variety statue of the Jesus sprouting cranial dildos,

Ascension (2010) Polyurethane foam, 100 x 170x 140 cm

for example, is just plain ugly. Etres Dites and Comme une sorte de surgissement, did not help me forgive the former desecration. Don't get me wrong; I'm not crying "Heathen!" because he's made an ugly Jesus sculpture. I myself covet the sculpture of the Virgin Mary I inherited from a friend's grandmother and my house is filled with an appalling number of holograms of the Virgin of Guadalupe (she's my patron saint after all). I know the things are unsightly. Religious iconography occupies a powerful place in the human imagination and the mythologies of self-sacrifice, virtue and piety often go hand in hand with unabashed worship of hideously ugly sculptures of saints and the Virgin Mary. Yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that the theological debate over the logistics of the ascension, that is, the belief that certain special people such as Jesus and Mary ascend directly and bodily into Heaven, will not be helped by M. Cardinal's suggestion that the whole idea is really just thinly veiled penis-envy.

Initially, when trying to 'place' M. Cardinal in some loose art narrative, I thought of Richard Tuttle because upon reading M. Cardinal's artists' statement I thought these two artists might have had more in common. M. Cardinal writes:
Until now my work consisted in a variety of simple and spontaneous gestures done on various types of objects. I was folding, gluing, crumpling, and cutting. If I have long been more interested by objects of quick consumption (towels, plastic utensils, etc.), I now use about anything, any objects at hand might end in one of my sculptures. When I work with a chair, a roll of toilet paper or a ping-pong ball, I am not working with ideas. It is respectively this chair, this roll of toilet paper or this ping-pong ball that I am interested in according to what they have to offer in terms of material qualities. Some objects allow us to fold them and some others to tear them. This is how I tackle the objects and materials that I use.
Alas, M. Cardinal's new sculptures are a far-cry from the spontaneous, 'sculptural drawings' of Richard Tuttle - check this out if my vague description of his work did not suffice:

Whereas Richard Tuttle is the master of making art from "feeble" materials such as paper, rope, string, cloth, wire, twigs, cardboard, bubble wrap, nails, styrofoam and plywood, etc., Éric Cardinal's sculptures are hideous, cheap plastic things. The poverty of their material qualities makes his statement sounds like art babble to me and therefore their commentary on (I assume) Quebec and religion and sex is lost on my fickle eye for beauty.

Luckily, my day was saved by Jocelyn Philibert's digital photography, also showing at SAS. Of the series, Night Set,

Untitled - Sans titre (pont sur la rivière Ouelle à Saint-Onésime d'Ixworth), 2009

and Sans titre (saule pleureur) (2006) were particularly striking. By M. Philibert's lens, trees at night possess a special luminosity He creates each image by piecing together hundreds of pictures of the subject. Whether or not the images are truthful reproductions of the subject is beside the point, the final product is an eerie resemblance to the thing where the real looks like an illusion and the 'authentic natural' is called into question. I'd wager that M. Philibert's attitude to making images of nature is in tune with what Ansel Adams said of the photograph: "beauty comes first." Long before the digital reproduction of images, the relationship of the viewer with the natural world was changed by the photographic lens.

Lastly, a note on the work of Laurent Craste, whose ceramics you'll find nestled in the third and final room of Gallery SAS. His delicate urns, vases and teacups, all of which have been attacked with heavy tools such as axes, crowbars and knives, indicate there is certainly a rebellious spirit at work here. That rebellious spirit is versed in the technical knowledge and know-how of his craft, however.
The outmoded ideas disseminated by bucolic scenes, floral bouquets and exotic trash, are presented and staged to highlight their racist or sexist elements and the conservatism of the object's owners. Therefore the critique of the representation also becomes a critique of the medium
so says M. Craste of his work. Two pieces certainly cut me like a knife. Paire de vases Médicis. Série des scènes pittoresques: Hiroshima et Auschwitz (2010), pink vases, one of which is painted with a scene from the gates to the camps at Birkenau, the other with a scene from the aftermath of Hiroshima. I visited Birkenau this past spring. There was and is nothing bucolic about that place. Even the grass and the flowers left on the rail tracks did nothing to suggest that life ever was or ever will be idyllic in that place. What I found strangely moving when I visited Birkenau were the enormous piles of everyday objects on display: shoes, brushes, cups and saucers. Orphaned objects stored behind glass, lonely reminders of their former owners. I felt that M. Craste's vases perhaps not only stand in as artifacts of war, but as reminders of the cultural plunder of it. During the Holocaust, everyday objects such as china, crystal or silver were lost forever. The monetary value of these kinds of objects is never equal to their worth to individuals and families.

In M. Craste's other works on display, including Iconocraste 0 – IV series, the ceramics take on an humanlike guise. M. Craste casts his ceramics after having stabbed or otherwise abused them, hence they mold to the weapon. Iconocrash 1 looks to be yelling back at its abuser. "These savage porcelain sculptures depict heavy tools smashing into vases, urns and teacups, satisfying the need to rebel against Grandma's china" Stephanie Saunders wrote in Toronto Life in her article where she also wrote that M. Craste was one of the "Ten Artists First Time Buyers Should Invest in Now". I cherish my grandmother's china, and given M. Craste's devotion to the craft of ceramics, I can't imagine he'd take one of his hammers to his family heirlooms. Though, if the mood struck, it'd make for a charged performance piece.

Praise is due to Galerie SAS for taking chances on Quebec artists, even if that means subjecting me to utterly ugly sculpture. No apologies necessary SAS, because when a student, when broke, when looking for a legitimate excuse to raise a glass or five with other art wonks, you're my go-to gallery. Hands down, SAS throws the best darn vernissage in town. I didn't make it to the opening for the Cardinal and Philibert show and while it was nice for a change to visit the gallery without the impetus to cram another bottle of ice-cider in my bag, I bet a glass of wine would have tempered my dislike for Cardinal's sculptures.

February 25, 2011

Les Sphères Polaires, Bernard Duguay, Pierre Gagnon, Lucion Média by Zeke


There are 24 (or maybe 25 I haven't been able to get a straight answer from anyone) round objects, hanging out near rue Jeanne Mance until the 27th of February. They're collectively called "Les Sphères Polaires." And I think they are horrible. But just to say they are horrible and dismiss them with a one word review actually makes me look like the jerk and the asshole. So bear with me as I attempt to explain why I think that "Les Sphères Polaires" should be condemned to someplace slightly more "Polaires" like the Gulag Archipelago, and forever be banished from Montreal.

Oooh! A big white ball!

First off: Unless there is a festival of some sort, the area where "Les Sphères Polaires" are located is a business district where the large majority of the people who are near it are near it in between the hours of 9AM and 5PM. During the hours of 9AM and 5PM the sun is out and as a consequence "Les Sphères Polaires" are a bunch of white spheres that do absolutely nothing except take up space. During the daytime they don't do anything, which is a pity. Because the technology exists to do some pretty spectacular light shows during the day, but whomever is the power behind "Les Sphères Polaires" decided that they were only going to "do stuff" at night.

Man, that is some amazing public art!!

At night, by my best guess, during the winter there are perhaps four people who walk from rue Sainte Catherine and rue Jeanne Mance to avenue du President Kennedy and rue Jeanne Mance. All night. Yes, there are the folks who are eating at Brasserie T! who are forced to watch "Les Sphères Polaires" (and thankfully Brasserie T! seems to attract crowds) otherwise the only people who would see "Les Sphères Polaires" would be those four intrepid people who choose to walk from rue Sainte Catherine and rue Jeanne Mance to avenue du President Kennedy and rue Jeanne Mance each night. 'Cause if I can remind you slightly, it is cold in Montreal in the winter, and as a consequence most people stay indoors, drive or take the metro and do not venture outside unless absolutely necessary. Last week it was -30 degrees. Even fewer people ventured outside at night.

Be still my beating heart...

So we have a case of something being touted as quote: art unquote, which should therefore entice people to come see it, but unfortunately being in the position (and place and time) where pretty much nobody goes to see it. Now this would all be fine and dandy if some person had decided that they wanted to show off their mad skills at doing stuff with white spheres on their own dime and time. You know something like Lightning Field, or James Turrell's Roden Crater, or something like that. But the fine folk behind "Les Sphères Polaires" somehow convinced a jury of their peers to let the Quebec and Montreal governments to fund the whole project.

Gotta love that color scheme, someone spent a lot of time figuring that one out.

Now I don't know about you, but if my tax dollars are going to fund art (and I really and truly like the idea that my tax dollars DO go and fund art, after all we are living in Quebec here) I want them to go to art which will be seen by people and is not horrible.

I was discussing "Les Sphères Polaires" with a friend, and she said I shouldn't be so mean, after all they were pretty. I asked her if she thought they were anything more than pretty, and while she initially said yes, when push came to shove, she couldn't come up with another adjective. Now I'm not against pretty things per se, I have no problems with roses, baby seals, sunsets or anything else that can be generically called quote: pretty unquote. But where I do have a problem is if someone tries to convince me that roses, baby seals and sunsets are high art. Quote: pretty unquote, and other adjectives like quote: cute unquote while might be sufficient for other people as far as defining what they like in art, but it doesn't do it for me. Quote: pretty unquote, if you hadn't noticed is a very one-dimensional description, and while we're at it is also fairly personal. Your pretty is not my pretty, and if you're going to push me any further, there ain't no accounting for taste, either, and yours sucks.

Isn't it wonderful how they can get them all the same color at the same time? Technology is so wonderful these days.

But beyond taste and relative ideas of prettiness. The whole project doesn't make sense to anyone! On first glance (which is only what most people give it anyhow) at night the 24 (or 25) spheres appear to change and switch color, occasionally something appears inside that vaguely looks like shadow puppets, all the while there's a vaguely Cirque du Soleil ultra world beat type of music that is playing in the background. What you don't know is that there's a red thing (kind of octagon-shaped, looking like a squished bass drum) with some holes on its side that actually controls everything. How do I know this? Because one night I was one of those four people walking from Sainte Catherine to avenue du President Kennedy and there was this guy who popped up from out of nowhere moving his hands like he was playing some sort of steampunk theremin who spent more than five minutes trying to not only explain to me how "Les Sphères Polaires" worked, but then another five minutes trying to convince me to control them.

That just jumps up at me and screams "wave your hands over me!"

Now, if the fine folk behind "Les Sphères Polaires" realized that they needed someone to explain the nuts and bolts to the four people who go from rue Sainte Catherine to avenue du President Kennedy each night it was only because they must have realized that for the most part people had no idea what the heck was happening, how the heck it was happening or why. And on top of that, they had probably used the word quote: interactivity unquote, multiple times in their grant applications (although, now in going over things, it occurs to me that this might have just been chosen by the folk at Spectra - there are no government logos anywhere). And then suddenly realized that when they went to take pictures for their final report that there were no people in the pictures to demonstrate quote: interactivity unquote.

Shadow Puppets! Wow!

Uh-Oh! That's not good. If you write the word quote: interactivity unquote, in your grant application it is a foregone conclusion that you need to have pictures of people using you art in your final report. If you don't, you're never getting another grant again. From anyone. Ever. So what do you do if what you wanted to happen isn't happening? You hire what here in Quebec is called a quote: animator unquote, or in the rest of the world is called a master-of-ceremonies. It probably would have been better on the grant application, if instead of needing what here in Quebec is called an quote: animator unquote, or in the rest of the world is called a master-of-ceremonies they had just written the words Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. But they didn't, so we're stuck with what here in Quebec is called an quote: animator unquote, or in the rest of the world is called a master-of-ceremonies. Pity. Although on the plus side I've heard rumors to the effect that they hired either homeless people or folk on welfare, so if you can get over the fact that these quote: animator unquote, (after all we are in Quebec) have to work in minus 30 degree weather, it probably can be considered a positive.

A close up of a hole.

But, don't get me wrong, shadow puppets are cool. In fact I've heard it from a very reliable source that shadow puppets are the next black. But one thing I like when watching shadow puppets - actually like is not the right word - the one thing I demand when watching shadow puppets is a plot, a storyline, or in simpler terms something that has a beginning, middle and an end. If you hadn't noticed "Les Speheres Polaires" are spheres - they don't have a beginning or an end - they do have a middle, but that's about all they have. And only having a middle is fine and dandy until you try to impose some sort of linear structure to your art by projecting shadow puppets. No way, no how, ain't gonna work. Or in even plainer terms don't even think about it.

And for those of you who think that I don't know diddly about shadow puppets, allow me to show you what I think are good (if not great to awesome) shadow puppets. William Kentridge just rocks my world and rocks it hard.

Before I forget, another absolutely horrible thing about "Les Sphères Polaires" is the music. Imagine if you will some type of music slapped with the label world beat. Then dumb it down to world beat music for infants. And then dumb it down further by imagining world beat music being played by infants. No way, no how, world beat music played by infants is going to be anything more than a LOL Cats for the second decade of the 21st century. But because everyone who sees "Les Sphères Polaires" only sees it for an extremely brief time the music played alongside only needs to be like the music played in your favorite mall, banal and dumb. Not quite completely in the background so that you don't consciously hear it, but at the same time definitely not a Lady Gaga song.

I dunno if you've ever seen the Teletubbies, but I have. Not that we have to get into a long discussion about why, suffice it to say, I was doing it with someone else's child. But after much pondering, it occurred to me, that "Les Sphere's Polaires" are exactly like the Teletubbies. Simplistic, designed to keep infants quiet, docile and content. And besides you know that it isn't good for an infant to be watching TV.

Getting fancy in this one, shadows and blue. OMIGOD!!

How exactly are "Les Sphères Polaires" simplistic? Well, if you notice most art uses a bunch of different colors. "Les Sphères Polaires" tends to be only one color at a time, as if having a varied palate would kill them.

How exactly are "Les Sphères Polaires" designed to keep you quiet? well, if you notice they make a lot of noise on their own, and it's cold out. I don't know about you but when it's cold, I don't like shouting (actually I don't like shouting at any temperature). And if someone is going to insist on playing loud noise, I'm not going to feel obliged to be heard over their din. Which means I'm going to be quiet - you on the other hand might react differently.

How exactly do "Les Sphères Polaires" keep you docile? Well if you drink the Kool-Aid and believe the hype that "Les Sphères Polaires" are cutting edge art then obviously you're not going to agitate for other cutting edge art. (yes, I recognize that's a tautology, but bear with me for a moment, ok?) But even if you don't think that "Les Sphères Polaires" are cutting edge art, as soon as you accept that they are art, then you stop asking questions. And to me that's the key point, art should always engage you in ways that make you think. After the initial "Oh cool!" squeal there is nothing substantial, no meat, all fluff, empty calories - I can continue listing the metaphors for as long as you like – but how about I save us both the trouble and stop here?

In case you didn't get the point, I'm repeating it. Technology is so wonderful these days.

Continuing along the line of how banal they are; if you happen to be able to stand watching and having to listen to them for any extended amount of time, you will quickly realize that for the most part the colored lights of "Les Sphères Polaires" are synchronized with the lights that are being used to quote: enhance, unquote the brutal and facade of the Musée d'art contemporain. So somehow, someone, somewhere, decided that the pretty lights within the balls were art, and somehow, someone, somewhere else, decided that the pretty lights on the side of the building were not. I just don't get it. And while I'm at it, who in the heck decided to quote: enhance, unquote the Musée d'art contemporain? The building is just plain ugly. To quote the seminal 1980s band Fishbone, "U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi, you're just ugly." There is no amount of quote: enhancing, unquote, that could turn that sow's ear into a purse. But whomever decided that a ginormous blank wall along rue Jeanne Mance (fer chrisakes' she was one of the founders of Montreal!) was a good idea, should be politely asked to try hanging out there while teaching people about the interactive aspect of "Les Speheres Polaires."

Doesn't that scene just make you want to dive right in?

Because of this massive blank wall that stretches from rue Sainte-Catherine to avenue du President Kennedy and the design of the Place des Festivals there is no integration of "Les Sphères Polaires" with the neighborhood whatsoever (ok, maybe a little, there are five of the balls that hang out in front of the Musée d'art contemporain, but they are so separated from the 19 or 20 others that they might as well be two separate installations. And those five that hang out in front of the Musée d'art contemporain ain't interactive, either). If you're going to be placing art in a neighborhood, one of the prime directives is to make it work with its surroundings. If your art is constantly fighting with its surroundings, the art is not going to win. As far as I can tell the only kind of art that is going to work in that neighborhood is the kind that is high up above ground level. If someone were to place some kinda big (not ginormous, nor humongous, but big) statues on top of the Musée d'art contemporain that then glowered down at the people who ventured to set foot on rue Jeanne Mance. Now that would be kind of cool. Big statues of snowmen. And then if you wanted to make them quote: interactive, unquote. You could set up some type of automatic snowball making machine and then make each one have an arm that was like a catapult. That way pedestrians would have to dodge the snowballs as they crossed Place des Festivals – and on top of that it would also make for some pretty entertaining scenes for the diners at Brasserie T! Plus, it would be easy to do during the day, when most people are in Place des Festivals during the winter. Win, win, win all around, except for those poor tourists who (inadvertently) got hit by a snowball.

But before I get too far ahead of myself and completely set up next year's show. I should get back to "Les Sphères Polaires." And ultimately it is a bad use of technology. Technology should help people do things that they previously couldn't. When used as art, it should make people think. "Les Sphères Polaires" does neither.

Last month I was watering the plants at a friend's house that was in the neighborhood of the Place des Festivals and as a consequence was able to see the balls form a variety of perspectives (her condo is on the 17th floor, so I was able to see them from up high, and as my schedule wasn't that rigorous, sometimes I would water the plants in the morning, sometimes at night, and in order to get to and from her place I would have to literally trip over them, so I got to see them up close as well) and there wasn't a single perspective where they made me think or enabled me to do something that I previously couldn't, except perhaps walk in a straight line from Brasserie T! to the metro, but that wasn't related to any technological advancement what so ever.

To my mind public art, even ephemeral public art needs to have a purpose and/or a reason. And beyond enabling Bernard Duguay and Pierre Gagnon of Lucion Média to make some money I can't think of a single purpose and/or a reason for "Les Sphères Polaires."

By this point we're almost at 2,700 words, either you've gotten my point, or you stopped reading a long time ago. So there really isn't any point me bringing up the wasteful use of energy in order to keep things inflated and making noise, nor is there any point in me talking about how they are supposed to represent immense snow globes but fail miserably nor is there any point in me flogging this horse much longer, I presume you get the idea. But if you want to continue the experience you can listen to what I said about "Les Sphères Polaires" right here.

Play Here

Download: MP3 12MB / FLAC 40MB / Ogg Vorbis 6MB or Stream
Originally broadcast on the Monday Morning After on CKUT 90.3 FM, Montreal.

Believe it or not, Nancy Reagan was right – Just say "no" to "Les Sphères Polaires."