January 28, 2011

Awkward Moments, Daryl Vocat at Maison Kasini By Greg Stone

Maison Kasini
372 Ste. Catherine West, #408
+1 514 448 4723

By Greg Stone

Based out of Toronto's Open Studio, Daryl Vocat is a native of Regina, where he completed his BFA, and with the move to Toronto came his Master's degree in Fine Art at York University. He has had solo exhibitions across the country, from Vancouver to St. John’s, and his works have been acquired by the likes of the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives, the City of Toronto Fine Arts collection, and the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York. Mr. Vocat works mainly in the screen-printing medium.

Installation view, Awkward Moments, Maison Kasini. Photo by Greg Stone

At first glance, the collection at Maison Kasini is very simple and approachable. Warning, reader, this is not actually the case. Not at all. There are much larger forces at play here. When you walk into the gallery, the collection creates an immediately simple impression on you. The colors are few and bold; solid crayola colors for backgrounds and off-primary colours to fill in the content, and the lack of shadowing makes it all the more bright. The borders and lines are thick and black; I can`t help but be reminded of my old comic book collection. The subjects are adorably kooky; a vulture wearing a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, an unimpressed cat wearing a medical lampshade (while sitting on a LEOPARD PRINT COUCH!!!), ironic bathroom graffiti, and images from old boyscout manuals. Even the way the pictures are hung fercrissakes; no frames to speak of, and the prints all pinned to the wall using thumb tacks and paper clips. Everything about this exhibit is so accessible. A child would love it just for the aesthetics of it. A teenager would love it for its off-balanced humour. Seniors would love it for its youth. But before you know it, the fog starts burning off and Vocat's real messages start to shine through. Often, it comes from the titles. Often, after a little bit more reflection. I'll give you one example here, and get into it more later on. One of my favourites from this collection is an image of a reclined man sleeping. There`s a vulture standing on his chest wearing a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, which it just stole from the sleeping man. Haha. That's pretty funny, a bird wearing glasses. And the man, he's so comically vulnerable. Nice bright colors, too. And then the plaque on the wall revels that this piece is called Dear Mother, Centre of My Neurosis, Never Abandon Me. Now, that's a bit of a bomb to be dropping on this deceptively simple picture, right? Suddenly, it's not so funny. Suddenly, you start thinking about Freud, and your own relationship with your mother, and about your anxieties, and how all this relates to Vocat's screenprint. See what I'm talking about? The entire collection is tricky like that. You're drawn to the pretty, bright colours, and then you come to a screeching halt. In a really good, genuine, substantial way.

Dear Mother, Centre of My Neurosis, Never Abandon Me

First of all, I`d like to tip my hat to Maison Kasini for being an excellently eccentric house of art. While they are definitely a gallery, the place also is a a really cool art shop where you can find cheap, off-the-wall art including everything from t-shirts to individually-packaged ceramic teeth. Definitely worth checking it out, if you haven't already. As such, it also acts as an ideal location for Awkward Moments. The prints fit in seamlessly among all the other eye-candy housed here.

The first 6 prints are from Mr. Vocat's Practical Associations series, and when I phone him up in Toronto, he explains to me that it's all about communication. Mainly the communication that exists in our relationships with one another, and the communication that exists between yourself and cultural influences. "I was just thinking about relationships in a broad continuum," Mr. Vocat says. "And a lot of these cultural references I use are personal, and I do hope that others get them. But I don't think that’s so important. It's more about what we know and what we don’t know." The cultural influences thing I pick up right away. Mr. Vocat uses various cultural references in these prints which help to orientate the audience. And he keeps a pretty open mind about these references, as they range from Spider-Man to Charlotte Perkins Gilman. His piece, for example, titled A Gift From Araby is a reference to James Joyce's short story of a young man struggling with his sexual development. The print shows a man (likely Mr. Vocat; the entire exhibit has numerous self-portraits) gazing into the heavens, contemplating a wedding cake. The idea behind the print is there, but when Joyce's story becomes an extension of the print, the image takes on new meaning and starts shouting messages of socially-determined families and sexual identity.

A Gift From Araby

Another excellent print here is Summary of an Epiphany, which shows a bathroom wall inscribed with ironic, contradictory graffiti about love and sex. Again, Mr. Vocat is playing with the idea of how we confront each other, and in what medium.

Summary of an Epiphany

OK, let's talk about animals for a bit. How do you feel about them? Do you feel profoundly connected to them, or do you see them and think 'I have no idea what you are nor what you’re thinking?' Mr. Vocat has clearly been thinking about things like this, and it shows in his next set of prints, 12 in total, from his The Translator's Conundrum collection from 2006/2007. I really, really liked this part of the exhibit. "Part of the thinking here is of the 'other,' whatever that may be. Animals are a good way to talk about 'otherness.'" These prints explore, in part, how animals can help people articulate and define 'sameness' and 'otherness.' Mr. Vocat mixes the natural world with domestic settings to show the complexities of their relationship. "Animal imagery is often poetic or symbolic. Like the cat videos on YouTube. I'm looking at what we know, what we try to know, and what we construct." The humour used in this section is inviting to say the least. It's adorably humorous, while still staying true to Mr. Vocat's message. One of my faves is We Still Love You Even Though You Eat Poo, a heart-warming print of a heavy-eyed Dalmatian lounging in an over-the-top picture frame. Funny? Yes, very. But more importantly, the image explores human ideals of love and compassion, and that old habit we humans have of imposing these ideals on other things, like animals.

We Still Love You Even Though You Eat Poo

Mr. Vocat is a wizard at attracting the audience's attention with simple, funny pictures and revealing titles, and then getting them to stay for the meat and potatoes.

And there are other huge ideas behind this part of the collection apart from this animal thing. It's also about sending and receiving information in a social context, and sending and receiving that information through art. And then how that art is interpreted by the 'translator' (hence the puzzling title). The print Hoping This Will Wash Off addresses exactly that. It's an image of a tattoo on someone's back of a family portrait pinned to their back with a dagger. The tattoo's a form of art that's sending a very strong message, and it's up to the audience of this tattoo to translate it.

Hoping This Will Wash Off

I'm getting the impression that Mr. Vocat is showing his audience that translation of this kind is not only necessary for people to do, but it’s a fundamental human habit.

The third and final section of the exhibit is prints pulled from Mr. Vocat's Rules of the Playground collection. Again, a group of brightly colourful screenprints. But for this collection, instead of creating his own images, Mr. Vocat took images that already exist and stylized them to his liking. The prints are all composed of two images layered over top of each other on a solid-coloured background and the subject matter is also fairly consistent; the images are usually some kind of sport taking place, layered with images from instructional manuals... instructional manuals like first aid books and the boy scouts manuals. "All the images are found. I didn't draw any of them," says Mr. Vocat. I'm hoping to get some more insight into this particular section. But the instructional manuals are throwing me off. "The prints here are representations of the world seen in a skewed way. And there are bits of reality in these. In a way, I'm looking for truth in stereotypes, or looking for intimate moments that aren't there." Ok, I'm catching on. Mr. Vocat explains to me that he wanted to question how stereotypes of masculinity are portrayed in the media, and to set up a challenge to those stereotypes. He explains how there is a lot that's said and a lot that's not said about masculinity, so he's trying to let that gap speak for itself. So when I look at Communicate Using a Secret Code, for example, and I see the image of two men wrestling juxtaposed with the image from a first aid book on how to make a sling for a broken arm, I'm starting to see the intimacy involved. It's definitely an intimacy I wouldn't usually pick up on, but Mr. Vocat makes the idea very approachable. Very plausible.

Communicate Using a Secret Code

And that's it. That's the genius of his work, of his style. It's so innocently persuasive that it seems like he could make you believe anything. And it's so approachable that you want to believe it, whatever it is. I know I left the gallery believing what he had to say.

Installation view, Awkward Moments, Maison Kasini. Photo by Greg Stone

The show is 30 selected pieces from Daryl Vocat's three collections, Practical Associations, The Translator's Conundrum, and Rules of the Playground and is now showing at Maison Kasini, #408 in the Belgo Building at 372 Ste. Catherine Ouest until to February 5th. (All images courtesy Daryl Vocat unless otherwise noted).

January 27, 2011

Boutique Punkt, Atelier Punkt By Meaghan Thurston

Atelier Punkt
5333, av. Casgrain, #205A
+1 514 458 7960

There's nothing mediocre about Atelier Punkt

By Meaghan Thurston

If you're looking for an out of the ordinary gallery-going experience, you'll have to look hard to find Atelier Punkt. At the locked door to 5333 avenue Casgrain, the advertised address, you will be directed by a small notice to the backdoor entrance on avenue de Gaspé. From there, you will make your way through a series of horror movie hallways and stairs in your search for the gallery. Best to carry a compass — or, perhaps be trained in the Jedi force — in order to navigate the concrete maze before you (tip: the gallery is on the second floor to the left of the staircase). Two small rooms no bigger than my living room make up Punkt, but, the space is used to its full potential.

On a cold winter night in December, I was somewhat apprehensive when I finally arrived at the strange and intriguing universe of Atelier Punkt for my second visit. I first heard of the space this October and attended the opening night of the installation "Off and On" by Roadsworth. That night the formidable gallery mistress, Melinda Pap, made more of an impression than what was on the walls. I encountered Ms. Pap in the gallery's back room, smoking and lamenting the state of the Montreal art scene, while a crowd of street-art enthusiasts crawled all over the place. Sure, the installation was good, but I guess Roadsworth's post-street-art-guerilla stuff seemed 'out of place' in a gallery. That's not to say that Punkt is not an ideal space for such art; indeed Ms. Pap is trying hard to make this the place for art and design to come together. It's just that I'm a purist about his work. I was there in the days when lane dividers became zippers, and cross walks became boot prints over night.

Ms. Pap was surprisingly frank with me, about her distaste for 'art wonks'. So it was with some sense of déjà vu that this time, I listened while she let off steam. A lack of civic appreciation for the kind of design that is being conceived and displayed by the artists affiliated with Punkt is her main beef with this city. Especially since the powers that be make such a fuss about its cultural prowess. She makes no bones that Atelier Punkt is showing what she considers the best stuff in Montreal, but isn't getting the credit it deserves. "This is Art and this is Design" she says of the work that is displayed there. This flirtation of the one moniker, 'artist' with the other, 'designer,' seems to be what interests Ms. Pap and her members most. And what's on display at Punkt is good, for the most part living up to Ms. Pap's claims of Punkt's international repute. Whether or not the state of the Montreal art scene is as dire as Ms. Pap claims, however, I'll leave to another day.

Boutique Punkt, which ran until December 23rd, was a fundraiser for the Atelier and a showcase of member's work. I fell immediately in love with the paper-cut collages of Annie Descôteaux. She employs a child-like style that at first glance conceals the unnerving subject matter. Ms. Descoteaux fashions a carnal feast — an 'offering', if you will (drawing a title from one of her works, displayed on her website in the 'viande-meat' section. In one of the collages, womens heads are mounted on platters, flanked by steaks. In another, a banquet of reproductive organs and breasts are garnished and presented for the eating. While Pap was talking, I couldn't help but peek over her shoulder at the one of the little girl whose skirt is being tugged off by a pack of wolves. Awoooo! If I'd had the cash, that's the one that would have come home with me.

'Étude de moeurs V', 2006, Paper Collage, 16" x 14" image courtesy Annie Descôteaux

Likewise appealing for the eyes if not the sitting are the chairs of Étienne Hotte, a designer with a flair for the asymmetric line. Three chairs from his series, 'Frédérick' were shown, one in matte steel, one in reflective steel and the third in red spandex, woven and tied around the frame. Mr. Hotte claims on his sleek website that his aspiration is to find poetry in his work. What kind of poetry, I wonder, would one find on the odd angle of a Hotte chair? Something with the ever enticing interaction of a strict set of rhythmic rules, and a sense of playfulness, I think. I wasn't blown away by Mr. Hotte's stuff, but it's likable.

Frédérick, Reflective Steel, photo courtesy Etienne Hotte

Though not officially on display, if you linger long enough you might also be able to get a tour of Ms. Pap's own chair designs: a feather chair, and a portable, aerodynamic 'picnic seat' for the city dwelling bottom, both of which I coveted. For the show, she made a wicked red dress entirely from meticulously folded pieces of fabric, mirroring Mr. Hotte's 'origami' mood. According to Ms. Pap, the Quebec actress, author and theatre director Marie Brassard has her eye on it for an upcoming performance. I also leafed through Ms. Pap's art books of prints in the back room, which proves she is an artist of many talents. Ms. Pap's blog is worth poring over too. She has a particular penchant for Japanese designers.

Other gems of the show included the slide carousel of 'truths of modern life' by Marc-Antoine K. Phaneuf and Jean-Francois Proulx; graphic designer Karine Cosset's photos of 'found detritus' (I can never get enough of that); and the lamps of Alexandre Berthiaume, whose other luminous designs, are endowed to my delight, with such names as 'chicken-ass' and 'drunk.' I nicknamed the lamps on display at the Boutique "that black plastic thing I accidentally melted on the stove, and then turned into a lamp". I challenge Mr. Berthiaume to come up with something more true to form than that.

Worth following up on is the work of Juliana España Keller. The three photographs exhibited at Punkt of an inverted head of a woman were true to Ms. Keller's typically creepy style of portraiture. Each portrait offered the viewer a different perspective on the bust of the woman, the final of the triptych resembling a kind of astrological map of the corporeal. If I were to wax poetic, I'd say that her portraits suggest death and resurrection. But for the record I'm going to make an even more arcane claim—her work is 'edgy' (it is).

Take for example the piece she created for RAW or Operation Rapid American Withdrawal 1970 – 2005, an extensive multimedia art event that was exhibited in the Ice Box Project Space at Crane Arts in 2005. The photo-realistic offering to that show bore the title, if people were forced to eat what they killed, there would be no more wars. Let me just say that this piece makes Ms. Descoteaux's 'meat-heads' look ever more like child's play. And try this one as well.

Before heading out into the blizzard of a Montreal evening I asked Ms. Pap about the name of the Atelier. I wondered if the name makes some reference to what the photographic theorist Roland Barthes called the punctum, because the name of her blog is Punktum. The punctum is defined as the wounding, personally touching detail in a photograph, which connects the viewer personally with the object or person within it. Most famously, the word is associated with the photograph of a young man, Lewis Payne, who tried to assassinate American Secretary of State William H. Seward in 1865 as part of a Lincoln assassination conspiracy. The photographer Alexander Gardner photographed Payne in his cell, where he was waiting to be hanged.

Lewis Powell, conspirator to assassination, after arrest, 1865.

The 'knowledge that this man is about to die' is the punctum: that 'thing' in the photo that affects us deeply. Is that concept the origin of the gallery's name? Not so, Ms. Pap says. "Punkt is what my mother always said when she finished a sentence. Punkt! Point final." So it is that Ms. Pap carries on what seems to be a family tradition of saying it like it is, making a strong point and not caring what anyone thinks about it.

Sadly Boutique Punkt's run has ended, but don't fret. Another show is already in its place. The invitation for the opening of NOIR was most alluring. It read
Contempler la noirceur sous toutes ses formes, les créateurs, avec humeur ou humour, ont empli Punkt de leurs idées noires :images, objets et autres. La vie l'hiver ce n'est pas toujours rose, mais ne vous faites pas de bile: Punkt connaît la couleur de votre mélancolie.
I'm intrigued by the concept and given that the month of January has got me scrounging in the pantry of my soul, I think this show might just fit my mood.

January 26, 2011

Hovig Papazian, Galerie d'Art Hovig by Michael A. Armstrong

Galerie d'Art Hovig
244 rue Rioux
+1 514 932 7357

by Michael Armstrong

Galerie d'Art Hovig, simply put, is an art appreciators' gem. Tucked away in Griffintown – a short walk from Metro Bonaventure, Galerie d'Art Hovig lies within earshot of Montreal's bustling downtown and is comfortably positioned between Cite du Havre to the east, and the "Farine Five Roses" sign, the picturesque fixture of Ile de Montreal's southernmost horizon. Galerie d'Art Hovig Hovig is more than a gallery or multipurpose studio space. My visit came closer to a reflective, philosophical experience. Hovig Papazian makes use of his skill by using art in a way that's twofold. It serves as both his language of choice to communicate his vision of the world, as well as the deliberative process of arriving at that point, all in one. Stepping into his studio was like walking into the mind of a man who thought a lot about the world; of life, the multitude of people it and the interconnecting links of our common experiences that bind us all within it. Admittedly, a rather grand conclusion to reach but one that quickly becomes evident simply in looking at the brightly adorned walls that surround you.

Upon entering the gallery, I was immediately greeted by a deeply curious, soft spoken, though highly engaging man in his 50s. Warmly introducing himself just mere moments after I had entered, Mr. Papazian personally presented his collection to me, painting by painting shuffling from one end of the gallery to the other, taking the time to speak about each of his colorful canvases individually. Just as a proud father would introduce his children, one by one, to an unacquainted guest of the home, it was in next to no time at all that I was able to quickly grasp each of his paintings' unique qualities. What made each of his works shine as stand alone pieces independent of one another, in addition to the cohesive nature of his collection, when visually taken in as a whole.

His consummate, nearly 14-year affair with oil-based paints may have begun in Montreal, but Mr. Papazian's story begins elsewhere. Born to an Armenian family in Lebanon, he attended the Guvder Art Academy, focusing his talents on fashion and interior design. There he began as an apprentice, soon thereafter showcasing his own couture work in galleries and embassies in Lebanon before completing his formal education. Traveling to Europe in 1968, Mr. Papazian served as a freelance fashion designer in England and France for five years, where in 1973 fate drew him to Montreal. Though initially arriving to visit his brother and a friend, he met his wife, raised a son and built a life in Canada.

It was a chance encounter in 1997, when a friend took Mr. Papazian to the studio of a Montreal based artist. When they entered the studio the artist was painting a portrait. During the visit the three of them spoke for a long time and in depth about the art. After a while, the artist looked and Mr. Papazian and said: "You're talking a lot about art, of this and that. There's a wall, go paint." So he did. When Mr. Papazian was finished, the artist declared that there it would stay, as would an open invitation to return and paint again. So he did, everyday for over two and a half years. That meeting served as a baptism of sorts for Mr. Papazian's conversion from an admirer of art, to becoming an artist himself; his mentor soon becoming his biggest supporter and most ardent patron.

While working in the Montreal fashion industry designing clothes, Mr. Papazian transformed his studio in the Old Port into an Art Gallery displaying contemporary art. In 2006 he moved to his current location, previously the site of a chocolate factory, and he renamed it Galerie d'Art Hovig. Mr. Papazian devotes himself fully to painting and writing poetry, amassing an impressive collection of work that's not only accessible but also registers at a core level.

Upon entering the gallery, you're immediately confronted by a diverse body of work both in theme and subject. The majority of the paintings are bold 24" x 24" canvases, though there are two striking 18" x 36" canvases in the front of Mr. Papazian's well-lit studio space. There is a sense of continuity in his work, despite it being obvious that his art was produced during different periods of time. The collection showcases Mr. Papazian's accessible though subtly changing painting style, as well as a range of subjects that inspired him.

Installation view, Galerie d'Art Hovig

While he states that his style of painting is in a continual state of evolution, seeing all the paintings together provides the viewer with a perspective that makes his painting style both familiar and, identifiable. By seeing his collection in its entirety, one can see subdued but noticeable shifts in style and content. What doesn't change is his use of art as a contemplative tool, a process akin to therapy.

Describing how we, as people, react and feel to events and situations, Mr. Papazian noted that our feelings exist in bundles - never clear, never concise. As a painter, he uses this opportunity to break down and consider how he feels about a given subject. Taking the time to understand whatever emotions are elicited. "It's not enough to know you hate or love something, I paint to understand why I feel, which can be more important than the physical thing you're left with when you're done." With every layer of paint that he applies, there is a release and a sense of letting go. This very emotional process transforms previously unidentified passions, emotions and feelings, into liberating displays of art, often resulting in the production of two to three paintings at a time. The completed works serve as markers, of Mr. Papazian's life.

Mr. Papazian is clearly focusing on using his art to express a range of emotions and feelings that speak of a shared human condition - a clear reflection on the universality of life's experiences. A great many paintings convey a connection to innocence represented by children and their shared bond with their mother. He finds this bond to be "the foundation, which if absent, eliminates the possibility of anything else" making maternity and the family representative of eternity. On the left and right hand sides of the gallery's entrance are vivid examples of his homage to mother and child. The different paintings showing different social contexts, which clearly shows Mr. Papazian's philosophical perspective of how humanity is inherently equal.

In one painting, called Unconditional we're presented with a mother and child enveloped in a sea of blue. Figures that Mr. Papazian later told me were inspired by a trip he made to South America. The mother's hair is covered and she is dressed simply. Crisscrossing blue lines blue outline her shape. She sits beside an empty basket, embraced by her son who is also leaning on her for support. He is dressed in blue clothing that is faded and wraps his hand around her in such a way that seems to bind them together, making them look like one. The faces are extremely detailed. There is darker shading that Mr. Papazian explained he uses to evoke the dull pain of burden. Very little else adorns the painting, no flair or pomp. This is in stark contrast to another painting of mother and child.

Unconditional, 25" x 38" Oil on Canvas

The second painting called Harmony contains a sense of lightheartedness that's absent from Unconditional, though because it is muted the painting does give off it's own air of worry. The figures appear in front of a bright green background. They are comfortably seated on orange-brown colored floor. The textured print of the woman's dress is comprised of vivid shades of green, yellow and red, half-haphazardly concealing the buxom curves of her body. Her child is dressed in a faded pastel red, his hands and legs intertwining with hers almost indistinguishably. Strands of her hair are formed by the downward trickle of thinned paint from her head that at first glance seems to be a creative way of depicting her locks but appearances can be deceiving.

Harmony, 24" x 24" Oil on Canvas

The dripping paint flows down half of her face like tears, adding a sense of worry to her otherwise unblemished complexion; a clear reverse from the shades of worry worn on by the mother in Unconditional. While Harmony is considerably less filled with angst than Unconditional, they both showcase mothers with their children amidst an underlying aura of worry. I asked Mr. Papazian about the differences he sought to project in both of these works. He responded, "there is no difference in the bond that a child has with its mother. If a child dies anywhere in Africa, China, Canada or elsewhere, the sound of a mother's cries will always be the same. We are all human beings and we feel the same pain no matter where we are from." While these are just two of his paintings that focus on the family, they are representative of the broader message of unity the experience of being human presents that Mr. Papazian is trying to express.

Mr. Papazian's artistic inspiration and the themes his works speak to, transcend the arbitrary construction of differences society so often assigns to aspects of our lives that exist beyond our control, like citizenship, nationality or race. That which we do have command over, are those connections we share with one another as members of the same human family; as neighbors and stewards of the same earth. A prime example of this is in a work titled Thanksgiving. Though visually, it wasn't my favorite of his works, the message it has still resonates with me. Here a typical thanksgiving scene depicts three people carrying overloaded baskets. In the background, there are figures standing in front of bamboo curtains. The bamboo dominates the canvas and appears to be a barrier between the two groups of people. But the second ground looking like "huddled masses" are very close behind the first groups with the baskets. It seems as if they are getting closer despite the bamboo bars that are separating them. On the left of the painting is the bird of peace, who has broken through the wall of bamboo, ultimately providing the viewer with Mr. Papazian's answer to the dilemma presented by the theme. It is the story of Thanksgiving but also one of false boundaries and citizenship, displayed with a sharp sense of irony.

Thanksgiving, 24" x 24" Oil on Canvas

This also isn't the only painting where Mr. Papazian is ironic. A beautiful 18" x 36" painting called The Bride honors his Armenian heritage, in a retelling of a folk tale where women from mountain villages have husbands chosen for them by matchmakers. Then come down from their hamlets to meet their future husbands (trust me, it's a much better story in Armenian). There are two figures descending from the summit to their weddings, each flanked by wonderfully unique trees on the left and right of them. Of the two, only one is dressed in white and in her arms she bears a child. The figure to her left is much more dull and faded, and awkwardly struggles to remain fully covered, clutching a shawl to shield herself from view until her wedding day. Contrast this with the bride on the right, who almost seems to shine divinely holding her baby tenderly as a gift of life, she is flanked by a brightly leafed tree which is an obvious tribute to her fertility, and she is radiant despite society's expectations of her chastity. It's a beautiful painting on its own, but context is key to unlocking Mr. Papazian's clever sense of humor.

The Bride, 18" x 24" Oil on Canvas

Another 18" x 36" painting is titled War End Peace, the one Mr. Papazian proudly declared his favorite. Admitting at the same time that it also took him the most time to create. War End Peace is a powerful statement on the effect of war and violence in a community. Here Mr. Papazian has painted an array of human shapes, those that are living in shades or red or orange, those who have passed in a bright neon green. The words "War," "End" and "Peace" surround the figures, connected by a red line that touches or surrounds nearly all of them. Mr. Papazian's play on words is the obvious charm in this work, begging the viewer to ask whether "War Ends Peace," or does "Peace Ends War?" The individuals who are alive, exist in somber, sorrowful states seeming to clutch onto one another. A mother holding onto her child, some children grasping their dolls. However what I felt to be most striking was the sense of freedom and dynamism in the green figures, representing the souls of those who had passed. Some exist in careless mid-flight outside the realm of "War End Peace," while others stay near to those that were still living, their arms jutting out in an almost celebratory mid-dance stance.

War End Peace, 18" x 24" Oil on Canvas

These are just some of his works, though I feel they accurately represent the consistent level of depth that is present in his collection as a whole. From his approach to the art and the perspectives he presents, to his expressive style and the sincerity with which he paints, Mr. Papazian's work at Galerie d'Art Hovig is more than memorable. It is a moving display that showcases testaments to the human experience. His paintings have a way of celebrating the immense diversity of the world by reminding us of the overwhelming commonality of our collective experiences. While you may waltz into this gallery intending to just look at art, you may end up spending much of your time thinking. But by all means, feel free to do so. With Mr. Papazian there, know you won't be the only one.

January 25, 2011

Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)


Imagine if you will a piece of art that is ignored by approximately 150,000 people ever year. And a pretty gosh darn spectacular piece of art at that... Such is the predicament of Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967). I guess that there are approximately 750 seats in Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts, and that it has some sort of performance about 200 nights every year. Therefore if my guesses are right, 150,000 people pass by it each and every year. (Although, before you go quoting me, be aware, I am horrible at guessing things and I have been wrong before, and most definitely will be wrong again).

The Plaque for Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)
The Plaque for Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)

As the plaque says:
Curtain of Light, Color of the Times (1967). 300,000 pieces of acrylic mounted on stainless steel wires. 305 feet by 25 feet. Collection Place des Arts, restored in 2000.
And I presume it was all made by hand. Because back in those days they had just graduated from inventing fire and the wheel, and no one had figured out how to invent technology, yet.

But one of the weirdest things is watching how just about everyone before a performance at Théâtre Maisonneuve and during intermission pretty much ignores it. While the drinks they serve at the bar during intermission might be cold and delicious, or the desire to get that front row centre seat might be overwhelming for those that arrive early, flat out ignoring Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967) just ends up making someone look like a mouth breather.

As I mentioned, it is made out of pieces of acrylic and stainless steel wires. The pieces of acrylic appear to be extruded in a variety of different shapes; triangular, diamond, pentagonal, and something looking like a vaguely irregular cylinder. Each one is about one inch in length (the metric system hadn't been invented then, either) and has about a one inch gap separating it from the piece above and about another one inch gap separating it from the one below. Each thread is spaced about two inches from the ones adjacent. The acrylic pieces are suspended on stainless steel spacers that have been crimped onto the wires. These spacers are used as stoppers to prevent the pieces of acrylic from falling, by means of a conical hole drilled into the center of each piece of acrylic. And finally, each wire has a plumb at the bottom so that it hangs straight.

Installation view of Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)
Installation view of Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)

In the picture above you can see the spacers, notice as well, the regular distribution of the acrylic pieces both horizontally and vertically. Although surprisingly, I was not able to figure out, nor see any pattern made using the shapes of the pieces of acrylic. But then again wrapping my head and eyes around 300,000 pieces of extruded acrylic is not something I try and do every day. When viewed head on, the curtain appears for the most part translucent, because your eyes naturally focus on what is beyond the curtain and window it is hung in front of - the plaza of Place des Arts, and now (unfortunately) the behemoth that has become the Quartier des Spectacles. However, when viewed on an angle it quickly becomes opaque, due to the fact that your eyes will naturally focus on the pieces of acrylic.

Installation view of Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)
Installation view of Micheline Beauchemin\'s Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)

Micheline Beauchemin was born in Longueuil in 1929 and died in Les Grondines in 2009 about a month short of her 80th birthday. In between those dates she packed an amazing amount of travel, work and awards into her life. Initially trained as a painter and in stained glass at the Montreal School of Fine Arts, the École des beaux-arts in Paris and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. She began making tapestries in the early 1950s, and first exhibited her tapestries in 1956 in France. In about 1963 she hit her stride, and by 1968 was making monumental tapestries like this one. (If you would like more details about her life, I snagged some useful information from these websites, one, two, three, and I'm certain that if you dig a little deeper, you can find lots more).

Installation view of Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)
Installation view of Micheline Beauchemin\'s Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)

There is an awful lot that can be read into Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967) starting with the materials used; while it is called Curtain of Light, Color of the Times the curtain itself doesn't give off any light, but it does both reflect the light and let the light through. As mentioned above, the curtain becomes opaque, and starts reflecting light when you view it on an angle, this is a purely physical reaction due to the spaces between each strand appearing smaller and smaller. Because it reflects the light when viewed on an angle, depending on the lighting in front of the Curtain of Light, Color of the Times it can appear warm or cold, and it can have a muted glow or a bright and hard shine. In fact it is incredibly chameleon-like. This characteristic is especially evident when it is viewed head on. When viewed head on, the spaces between each strand are large enough that your eyes naturally focus on what is behind the curtain, in effect making the curtain not only transparent but in certain cases, invisible.

Installation view of Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)
Installation view of Micheline Beauchemin\'s Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967)

Made at the height of the 60s, and at the time when Montreal appeared to be the absolute best-est place in the entire known universe to live, Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967) absolutely and completely lives up to and beyond its name. As a curtain of light, it is a spectacular example, reflecting and glittering gently, in the background unobtrusively doing its business - hence why so many people ignore it - working as a barrier between the inside and the outside. It also serves as a very hippy take on marquee lights, and can also be interpreted as a way of reflecting and thereby reminding the audience of what happens (or has happened) in Théâtre Maisonneuve. And as it is also transparent and see-through, it thoroughly can be understood as a color of the times - or more bluntly, you can see through it to see what is happening now, what is coloring and shading reality.

Outstanding in just about every respect, Micheline Beauchemin's Rideau de lumière, couleur du temps (1967) is a monumental tapestry that works well on very many levels. From the purely aesthetic, to the highly theoretical and abstract. Suitable as a discreet background for a public room and as an object in its own right that commands 100% of your attention, it shows off many of Micheline Beauchemin's ideas and concepts while at the same time spotlighting her skill and mastery as an artist.

[cross posted at art and society]

January 24, 2011

Two Sticks in a Shed, Beth Stuart at Battat Contemporary By Meaghan Thurston

Battat Contemporary
7245 rue Alexandra, #100
+1 514-750-9566
January 14 - February 26, 2011

Battat Contemporary: A Plaid Scarf and Baby Bjorn Affair of Strange Sensations

By Meaghan Thurston
Art writer to Gallery Coordinator: "Est-ce que je peux prendre des photos ici?"
Gallery Coordinator to Art Writer: "Yes, you can speak English."
Art Writer: "Um..."
Gallery Coordinator: "Ok, you can take photos, but not of me."
And so my night began at Battat Contemporary. With my writing deadline looming, I took a hint from the Hour's 'hit list,' made an early dinner, and set off in my parka to the almost two-year-old contemporary art gallery. The Hour's plug promised me "a world of strange sensation" at the vernissage for artist Beth Stuart's exhibition, Two Sticks in a Shed, or Deux Batons Dans un Shed (not quite as snappy in translation, non?). Though I hadn't heard of Beth Stuart, or the gallery before. Neither has it seemed have a large number of Montreal's gallery goers. That's not to say the place wasn't packed — it was — but seeing as how the gallery is located in the obscurity of a north of Jean-Talon side street, the unofficial dress code at Battat Contemporary was notably less 'hipster' than expected. I'd describe it instead as a "plaid scarf and baby bjorn affair." So many babies in the audience! So many modern dads in plaid scarves! Right off the bat, this took me off-guard. If I'd known, I imagine I could have rustled up at least one of these 'Battat staples' (a scarf, a baby, a dad). Alas, I stumbled around the room with the handy exhibit map in hand, soon realizing I had my sweater on backwards while struggling to keep the camera I had around my neck from swinging dangerously at my glass of wine, which was I might add dutifully refilled by handsome bowing waiters (score one point for Battat Contemporary).

Beth Stuart is a Toronto-based artist with a BFA from Concordia and a MFA from the University of Guelph. Ms. Stuart cites both proto-feminist discourse around the predominantly abstract work of female artists in the 1960s and the "interrupted illusions" of the surrealist painters of the 1920s as major influences to her work. She describes her Two Sticks work as "circling around the sensation of joinings; clasped palms, cigarettes cupped between the lips, fabric bunched in a crevice". The University of Guelph's line is that her paintings "may be misinterpreted as abstraction. Having recently transitioned from image-based figurative painting, Ms. Stuart's new work occupies a place between the formed and the formless, the fragmented and the whole"[1]. What they're not telling you is that apparently in some of Ms. Stuart's earlier work she interprets childhood photographs in painting, transforming her subjects into vampires. The more stuff I hear like that about this artist, the more I like her.

I'm not interested particularly to go on about whether the Two Sticks stuff is abstract or not because I thought it was. I can say that the work is "evocative." Evocative, specifically, of the kind of dreams and nightmares you might have after dental surgery. By that I mean that while each piece makes you feel that you know what you see in your Tylenol 3 influenced mind's eye is somehow familiar, its true form is concealed.

DADODADODADO, 2010, 20" × 24"; oil on plastered linen on panel. Photo Meaghan Thurston

My favorite piece in the show was undoubtedly DADODADODADO. From the first glance, I got it in my head that this one depicts two birds kissing. Looking again I see other ideas emerge: two eyes look out from Rapunzel's hair; a life form emerges from an autumnal landscape. I also found myself staring at Twist or Wale for what might have seemed to others as an awkwardly long time. Is it a bum? A woman's tightly squeezed cleavage? A baby wrapped in a babushka?

Twist or Wale, 20" × 16"; oil, acrylic on plastered linen on panel. Photo Meaghan Thurston

Ms. Stuart uses an interesting technique of covering the canvas with plaster before painting, so the works are thick and stand out from the wall. Happily, they reminded me of the fake "pyramid stones" hawked by young men in markets in Egypt, which are basically postcards of the pyramid's facade glued to pieces of concrete (it's wondrous what can be sold to a tourist).

The lone sculpture in the room also got lots of attention. Ms. Stuart is interested in braided textiles and woven structures and she's made a fine piece from this fascination. Like her paintings the sculpture is mysterious in form, seductive even. Are you not tempted to hoist the chain and peek under the 'skirt'?

Heddle and Reed, variable dimensions, porcelain, linen, gesso, watercolour. Photo courtesy Battat Contemporary

After a couple of glasses of wine I got up some nerve and started talking to more people at the show. One person helped me to see why the painting First Blush is so titled. I won't tell you why as I encourage you to check it out for yourself, but thank you anonymous person for helping me to "get" the title. I asked anonymous what she liked about the work. "They're much thicker than I expected" she answered. "And I like how that by this width the paintings mirror the sculpture."

First Blush, 2010, 25" × 24"; oil on plastered linen on panel. Photo courtesy Battat Contemporary

Unfortunately, the art baloney was also sliced pretty thick at this show. It was claimed in the extensive literature to be read at the front door that Ms. Stuart's work occupies "a no-man's land between subject and form" and that they are of the "abstraction-representation, figure-ground, image-object" genre, her plaster practice echoing the grand tradition of the fresco. Fresco?! Ok, I mean I guess in the sense that her work is a related painting type done on plaster there's an echo of fresco, but to call her a frescoist feels like a stretch to me. I can only guess that they were laying it on because this show had Ms. Stuart up for the 2010 RBC Canadian Painting Competition.

To surround these otherwise small, abstract, organic images with such big talk actually detracts your attention from what is good about them. To appreciate the quirkiness of the work, while at the same time digesting bulky theory didn't jive for me. For example, the show provided each visitor with a small booklet, entitled Joinery/Menuiserie, which delves (apparently) into the theoretical aspects of the works of art. Engaging three characters, Paul Klee, Marguerite Porete and Georges Batialle in the roles of reason, love and soul respectively, Ms. Stuart excerpted text from Klee's On Modern Art, Porete's The Mirror of Simple Souls, and Baitaille's Story of the Eye, to create a critical dialogue on creativity. I struggled to find the connection between the booklet and the show except that the dialogue explores a passionate relationship between woman and an image of her love (a painting). There are some passages, however, that recall the Two Sticks work by means of the sheer absurdity.

For example:
The Soul (aside to an audience): Upon my asking her what the word urinate reminded her of, she replied: terminate, the eyes with a razor, something red, the sun. And egg? A calf's eye, because the colour of the head (the calf's head) and also because the white of the egg was the white of the eye, and the yolk of the eyeball. The eye, she said, was egg-shaped.
What I am getting at is that when viewing Ms. Stuart's work one should be put in the mood for a hearty spoon-full of her nonsense, with no expectations for 'higher learning'. I don't think this show should have been injected with so much theoretical venom (as per the little booklet and the show description). Rather, it's worth visiting the show simply to revel in how an image can recall at once "the white of the egg and the yolk of the eyeball." Yes Ms. Stuart's Two Sheds work is interesting because it flirts with different mediums: textile, sculpture and painting. But, they are essentially light and easy to look at and I don't need to pretend that she's developing some grandiose dialogue between subject and form to appreciate them. The paintings themselves don't demand you understand their imagery and from everything I can find about Ms. Stuart, she talks about her work with humor. For example, in a recent interview posted on the art blog LVL3 she was asked: "If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say?"
"I'd say that I make paintings. And then they'd say 'of what?' and I'd say - 'exactly!' 'Oh, that one's looks like licking frozen metal!' or 'those two together look like a conversation between my libidanally challenged aunt and my randy teenage girlfriend,' I'd be getting somewhere."
[2]. Whew, thanks Beth. Now we're getting somewhere.

January 21, 2011

Energy Field & Shuffling Around in the Shallows, Jana Winderen at Galerie B-312 By Greg Stone

Galerie B-312
372, rue Ste-Catherine O, #403
January 8 to February 5, 2011

By Greg Stone

"This one here is a type of Pollock." Jana Winderen puts her hand up to stop me from talking so she can hear the noises coming from the speakers. "Quite a powerful fish. Its hunting. You hear that RRRrrrruuu RRRrrruuuuuu sound? Yeah, they're following small fish." I’m trying to hear the hunting. Or the small fish. But I pretty much just hear moving water. But in my defense, Ms. Winderen has a bit more experience than I do with this kind of thing. Hailing from Oslo, Norway, Jana Winderen is an internationally acclaimed sound artist, producer, curator, and director whose two installations, Energy Field and Shuffling Around in the Shallows, now showing at Galerie B-312, showcase her recent underwater and sub-glacial recordings from around the world. Ms. Winderen has spent the past few years experimenting with hydrophones. microphones that are designed to pick up underwater sounds. She has collected recordings from pretty much everywhere, from rivers in Thailand to glaciers in Greenland.

Hear an excerpt from Energy Field by Jana Winderen

The space at Galerie B-312 is split into two rooms. The first room houses Energy Field. Originally intended as a record release on UK label Touch, Energy Field now exhibits as an installation piece. Nine speakers set up in a 3 x 3 square on stands at ear-level, emit sounds Ms. Winderen recorded at Norwegian fjords, glaciers on the west coast of Greenland, and in the Barents Sea north of Norway. Mounted on the far wall is a jumble of cables and processors, and a screen displaying still images of fjord ice fields. Ms. Winderen says that she doesn't like to hide anything or put things into boxes, so there is no mystery involved. For this project, Ms. Winderen's methods included dropping a microphone, attached to a long cable, down massive crevices in glaciers, recording sounds that don't exist on the surface. "I just had an idea. I really wanted to go to Greenland because I've heard about the sounds of the icebergs as they move past. So I bought a ticket and I went there with my recording equipment," she tells me in her yogurt-y Norwegian accent. "I went up to where the inland ice reaches the bay and recorded avalanches of that one, and underwater of the avalanches. It's mostly different recordings from up to 90 metres below the surface." The recording starts at the surface with the groaning of birds and dogs, and eventually reaches the depths of the glacier. The resulting sound is definitely not of this world. A very heavy reverb background noise is sparsely accented by dripping and steadily flowing water, something that sounds like crickets chirping, and, my favourite part, the creaking of the glaciers slowly rubbing against each other. There's so much tension in this noise, it's painful. It might be the best way to suggest the immensity of these enormous ice cubes. So why glaciers?

Energy Field, Jana Winderen at Galerie B-312. Photo by Greg Stone

"I wanted to work with the water cycles, and how water exists in different phases. So I went to Greenland to get the melting of the ice, and it became much more of a story of [the water] going from land through the ice, and down to the water... My main interest is the soundscapes underwater." Ms. Winderen's focus for this project was to bring to the surface (no pun intended) sounds that have never been heard before. Sounds we don't have up here. Sounds that you don’t even believe are natural. And if that is her focus, she has succeeded. But back to the hunting Pollocks.

The second, adjacent room, at the gallery houses Shuffling Around in the Shallows, an installation dedicated to the communication between underwater creatures. Like Energy Field, Shuffling Around in the Shallows focuses on the audio. Four speakers set up in a square face inwards, creating a kind of surround-sound effect. Again, a mish-mash of cables mounted on the wall. Nothing to hide here. Beside this, there is a screen showing a spectrogram which displays the frequencies of the sounds from her recordings. "Different species have different frequencies they work in, so they can always interact with each other. I'm now starting to look more into that aspect." She explains to me how animals, both underwater and on land, communicate with each other on particular frequencies. One species will choose a certain frequency so that they can communicate uninterrupted, while other species will do the same thing, but on a different frequency. This communicating helps animals with things like hunting and mating. Ok, I know this is starting to sound like a BBC documentary, but we’re getting back to the art.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ms. Winderen's work is the methods she uses to get her recordings. For example, to record the Pollocks hunting small fish, Ms. Winderen put hydrophones in the shallows of a fjord and waited for the tides to come in. The local fishermen helped her identify the species she was working with. When I describe her work like that, Ms. Winderen's art comes across almost like scientific research. In fact, marine biologists and other scientists have been involved with her work in the past. So what sets this piece of art apart from science? Ms. Winderen explains to me that there is a lot of research being done on underwater communication, but most of it deals with whales. "Not so much on fish. I didn't learn in school that fish were communicating. [I wanted] to find out how important audio is for the creatures in the ocean, and how ignorant we are of that. We're just sound polluting the ocean with both motorized boats and also with seismic testing for oil drilling. This is crucially bad for some species." She explains how by filling the oceans with sound pollution, people are interrupting the communication of these fish. Without communication, they can't mate. Without mating, fish populations decrease, and the indigenous populations that rely on these fish will eventually suffer. After hearing all of this, I listen to the installation again and it sounds totally different.

Ms. Winderen is clearly very passionate about her style of art. And she is enthusiastic to let others learn her ways. On January 10th and 11th, Ms. Winderen and Galerie B-312 held a 2-day workshop on the art of recording underwater sounds. Ms. Winderen walked 10 people through the equipment needed to record underwater, and then took them all out in a boat on the St. Lawrence river with all the recording equipment and taught everyone how to record sounds from the river. How cool is that? And it seems like Ms. Winderen was able to find some beauty in the sounds of the St. Lawrence; soon after I left her, and despite her very tight schedule, she was heading back out to the river. "Yeah, it sounded brilliant. You know I really started thinking about it, this river. I had a really solid, good recording, so I want to go back."

Whether Ms. Winderen wants it or not, her subjects connect her to the climate change debate. Take, for example, the story connected to her previous recording Noisiest Guys on the Planet, released on Touch records. Ms. Winderen was out on the coast of Norway, recording the crackling sounds of shrimp with fellow artist Chris Watson. At first, Ms. Winderen and Mr. Watson thought that the shrimp might be snapping shrimp, a species of shrimp that use a snapping sound to stun their prey, but quickly realized that snapping shrimp usually live further south, and wouldn't normally survive in the icy waters of the Norwegian coast.

"And I got this email from a journalist in Germany asking me, 'Can you confirm that snapping shrimp are moving north because of climate change?' And I never said that. I said that it can't be them making this sound because we are too far north, and they live further south."

Energy Field, Jana Winderen at Galerie B-312. Photo by Greg Stone

Despite this, the German journalist went to the Polar Institute in Norway and asked the scientists there if these snapping shrimp could exist in Norwegian waters. So, being good scientists, they did some research and found that the snapping shrimp had in fact migrated north, and that Ms. Winderen had in fact been recording this species. Climate change or not, this was a significant scientific discovery.

Like it or not, any artist working with glaciers will be automatically connected to the issue of climate change. And Ms. Winderen goes about it brilliantly. "Everybody has their eyes on Greenland at the moment. But I don’t want it to be predominantly about the climate change issues, it’s generally really about the sounds underwater that we're so ignorant about." Ms. Winderen lets her art speak for itself. Sure, it will be interpreted in connection to climate change. It was one of my first thoughts when I walked into the gallery. It prompted the German journalist to look deeper. And for Ms. Winderen, it's the perfect role for her art. "If [my work] can start somebody looking for a second time, then I feel it's really worthwhile. And I think in this way, you know, I'm very happy if my work can start this kind of process. It's wonderful."

January 20, 2011

Le Tarot de Montréal, Marie-Claude Bouthillier, Maison de la culture Côte-des-Neiges By Jessica Surendorff

Maison de la Culture Côte-des-Neiges
5290, chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges
November 25, 2010 to January 9, 2011 and traveling to Galerie Port-Maurice, la Bibliothèque Rivière-des-Prairies, la Bibliothèque publique Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc and Centre culturel de Dorval.

Le Tarot de Montréal is a contemporary portrayal on the theme 'Tarot,' as interpreted by 22 local artists.

By Jessica Surendorff

Le TAROT de MONTRÉAL, vue d'ensemble : les vingt-deux cartes et le dos taroté, 2009. Image courtesy marieclaudebouthillier.org

Marie-Claude Bouthillier, curator and the brains behind the concept of this exhibition, invited 22 Québec artists to recreate a new version of the Major Arcana (which are in a sense the 22 'royal' picture cards of the Tarot). The aim was to use the symbols and icons that are seen in the Tarot pack, and allow the artist to communicate these images through their own artistic practices. Bouthillier explains that her method behind matching the artist to the card was done by considering the "conceptual or formal associations" between the Arcana and the artist's personal style and approach to art-making.

The mysteriousness associated with Tarot is felt upon entering the space. The contemporary twist on these 15th Century fortune-telling cards did not mean that the aura of 'hidden knowledge' was lost. In the modest space of the Maison de culture Côte-des-Neiges, I felt like I was in my own gypsy caravan.

Well, an Ikea gypsy caravan, since this particular space could have come straight out of a catalogue. Along with the pale wooden flooring, the exposed lighting gives the 1st floor of the Maison de culture this stage like quality. The focused lighting set up was like a pin point on each card, like I was peeping trough a keyhole into the world of the Arcana.

Bouthillier's decision of matching the frames to the flooring of the space gives the exhibition a sense of unity; with each art work having sufficient breathing space between the next to allow time for the viewer to process the story of the card (before moving on to the next little secret).

At the entry of the space, Bouthillier has set up two cabinets showcasing the traditional Tarot de Marseille and the Le Tarot de Montréal. Placed in their correct numerical order, the traditional Major Arcana is obviously in contrast to the contemporary interpretation. In the one cabinet we see typical medieval iconography; bold line work and clear symbolism. Even if someone has never seen a Tarot pack in their lives, they would be able to guess what each card represents. The limited colour palette of black red, blue, yellow, green and beige seems almost clinical and rigid in comparison to the contemporary counterpart – but there is still something very powerful and mysterious about these cards. In the other cabinet; cut to the same dimensions of a traditional pack lies the Tarot de Montréal, seeming more intriguing with its organic lushness.

On the wall, placed between these two cabinets, is the 23rd card – acting as a bridge between that old world and the present. This card is the 'reverse card,' which at a first glance resembles the back of any deck of cards. Done in ink on Japanese paper, this card was created by Bouthillier and seems to be the uniting point of the exhibition. The blue and black chequered motif on the reverse of the card is called 'taroté,' and Bouthillier explains that this allowed her to "cover all cards." Having an interest in screens and nets, Bouthillier describes the painting of the 23rd card, saying it was "as though I held each artist in my hands."

Each piece of the Le Tarot de Montréal is 40cm x 30cm, and has been arranged around the space clockwise in numerical order, giving a needed sense of harmony to an exhibition which showcases so many different styles and mediums. A number of the artists remained faithful to the original in their representation of the Tarot de Marseille; keeping the composition and imagery very similar. On the other hand, some of the artists have interpreted the cards in a much broader and contextual sense.

Card number 1 is Le Bateleur; The Mountebank, which Éric Simon has portrayed as a dynamic ninja. According to the medieval character of The Mountebank this was a man who vigilant and strong. With the six ninja figures executing acrobatic moves and wielding various weapons, this message of strength and alertness is clear. These figures are backed by psychedelic patterns and colours (done with a mix of pens and crayons), which makes a stark contrast between the dark forms of the ninjas. This card looks like something that the cool kid sitting next to me in geography class was drawing instead of paying attention to our high school teacher. But the composition, and the precise way Simon uses felt pens in the drawing of the ninjas show his sound skills in creating form and shadows. At the centre of this striking piece we see one of the ninjas, kneeling before a hat and coins, holding a sign 'Du Change pour un Ninja.' Although this panhandling ninja is midway through drawing out his sword, he isn't the least bit threatening with his comical hat and crazy, psychedelic background. Makes me wonder what Simon's opinion is on what makes someone vigilant and resilient in the contemporary context of Le Bateleur.

The next card in the series is a black and white photograph by Éve K. Tremblay. The first thing I notice in Tremblay's interpretation of La Papesse is the look of slight disgust and annoyance on the woman's face. It’s as if someone has disturbed her little intellectual moment reading from a book called 'The Waste Land and other Poems.' I almost expect to see the white trail of a set of Apple earbuds, but am pleasantly surprised. This woman is not like those people you see on the metro that revel in excessive sensory stimulation (so are you really reading? Or are you really listening? Or are you really just trying to block everyone and everything else out?) Tremblay has clearly communicated the symbolism behind the original La Papesse tarot card, which on the superficial level is wisdom and intuition. More apparent in this photograph is the card's other meaning; a retreat into the world of theoretical knowledge and the arts.

The following card in the pack is L'Impératice, and this piece seems to be the 'favourite child' of the collection, as it is seen in almost all the marketing material and reviews for this exhibition. The Empress was assigned to Yan Giguère, as the card represents creativity of nature and growth. Bouthillier was familiar with Giguère's recent works involving the relationship of humans and nature. This assemblage of floral images with the queen and her staff has a rather soothing and feminine feel. The balance between the unsaturated background and the intense cluster of bright flowers in the foreground works well – and although this montage has a very 'cut and paste' feel to it, the composition still has life and movement. In keeping with the traditional Tarot, this piece has a mysterious element to it, conjuring up ideas of fairies and folklore. I admire the way Giguère was turned a succulent plant into the Empress's crown by blowing up the image and adorning the points on the leaves with pansies, like little jewels. Just to break up the 'prettiness' of it all, the Empress's staff is like a glowing, nuclear rod – over exposed to the max. There is also added cuteness of the Empress's shield being represented as a giant mushroom, with a curious owl peeping over the top. This piece is very lush and textured, and one could spend forever breaking down and analyzing the imagery and symbolism.

L'Impératrice : Yan Giguère, image numérique, 30 x 40 cm, 2009 courtesy marieclaudebouthillier.org

The Empress is evidently followed by L'Empereur; a silver silhouette of a giant man. As is his female counterpart, he is branding a staff in his hand, but this time the top is adorned with the Québecois Fleur-de-lys. This silver giant is seated on a throne decorated with a golden eagle coat of arms, looming over a sparse landscape. In contrast to the Emperor's casual and relaxed posture; his staff reads "Be Prepared." This card belongs to self-taught artist Mathieu Beauséjour, who has clearly represented the cards symbols of power and money. The photograph that Beauséjour has chosen for the landscape is actually of a mine in Northern Québec. The thing that strikes me the most about this card is that at the centre of The Emperor's chest is a white disc, with lines radiating out like some religious super-nova.

L'Empereur : Mathieu Beauséjour, image numérique, encre, 30 x 40, 2009 courtesy marieclaudebouthillier.org

My initial impression of Le Pape was the return to the traditional layout and structure of the Tarot de Marseille. The composition as a whole (the figures and the placement of the title and card numbers) echoes that of the original tarot. Benoit Bourdeau use of digital layering with low opacity makes the card look like the Ghosts of Priests Past have come together for a chat. Bourdeau has introduced a scientific element to the card, with many of the layers involving alchemist diagrams, mathematical equations and drawings much like Leonardo's sketches of machines. As you look through the layers you can see the figure of The Pope in a swirling halo of algebra, lit by the aura of the blue flame of a Bunsen burner. At the very centre of this mash-up of science and religion is a face with heavy eyes and full lips – the face of a woman. Bourdeau's composition leaves one with a lot to think about…

Next in line are The Lovers. Andrea Szilasi has used photo montage to create this card, which traditionally portrays a man having to choose between two women. The faces of the two women cannot be seen in this version of L'Amoureux, but we can see that the lover has to choose between a flaxen-haired girl and a brunette. Between the two women is a giant, square cut-out of an eye (which probably represents the man who has to decide between which of his lovers to keep). The piece is dominated by a large wooden fence in the background, which is cutting off nearly all of the sky line. What's on the other side of this fence? Perhaps this signifies the unknown in relationships and commitments, as we do not know what is on the other side until a choice is made.

L’Amoureux : Andrea Szilazi, collage photo, 30 x 40 cm, 2009 courtesy marieclaudebouthillier.org

Number 7 is a quirky interpretation of Le Chariot by Pierre Gauvin. The styling process of putting this photograph together looks like it would have been much fun, as Gauvin has taken everyday objects and used them together in a seemingly nonsensical manner. At the centre we have the figure we expect of The Chariot card; the warrior, the conqueror on his noble steed (a bicycle in this case). Our chariot rider looks like he went to a costume party as 'Tin-Man' from The Wizard of Oz; got drunk and stole someone's crown, V for Vendetta mask, prosthetic foot and pet rabbit. This photograph makes me smile more than it makes me think about power and success; but none the less I like the composition and the use of light. In the background we see streams of red and white lights from the passing traffic, which I think is balanced quite well with the white rabbit and red bicycle.

Le Chariot : Pierre Gauvin, photographie, 30 x 40 cm, 2009 courtesy marieclaudebouthillier.org

Sophie Jodoin's interpretation of La Justice is a mixed media of crayon and collage; and I quite like this piece due to its simplicity. Jodoin has not gone over board with the symbolism of this card, and piece is so bold and simplistic it looks almost like the logo for a successful clothing brand or music label. In the original Tarot, a seated woman holds the scales in one hand and a sword in the other – but in this contemporary interpretation the woman has been doubled, with the head of the women being replaced by some kitchen scales, and the sword being replaced by a butter knife. This card reminds me of the negative of a film strip, which I think is well suited to the concept of weighing up positives and negatives.

The next card is that of L'Hermite; which is a card that is easy for anyone to decipher even if they are not familiar with Tarot. Obviously, this card is about solitude and meditation – focusing inward on one's self. Yann Pocreau was chosen to represent this card as much of his photography explores the subjects of a lonely figure in vast spaces and landscapes. In Pocreau's photograph we see The Hermit in a form very similar to the original Tarot; a man wondering alone at night with his cane and lantern, in the search for light and possible answers.

In comparison to the other cards, I find that Le Roue de Fourtune is a nice break from the other mediums that have been used in Le Tarot de Montréal. Claudia Bernal has created this card using etching and ink, and has used a fluid and free-hand style unlike most of the other pieces in this collection (which consist mostly of photography and collage). The wheel itself has been represented as a swirling vortex, much like the symbol for eternity. Around the wheel are three strange creatures; hybrids of animals and plants. At the top of the wheel is the creature at the height of its fortune; a totemic style figure that somehow reminds me of a dissected animal in the science lab. This funny creature is soon to been brought back down to earth by The Wheel of Fortune, which is central to the cards meaning that earthly power is an illusion.

The three focal elements of Cynthia Girard's La Force are a moth, a tortoise and a lovebird. This is usually not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Strength. Usually, this Tarot shows a woman taming a lion, but I really admire Girard's use of gouache and line work to make this delicate and feminine painting. Something about this piece reminds me of a fairytale, or one of Aesop's fables. The moral of this particular story is maybe is 'looks can be deceiving' or something equally cheesy along those lines. Perhaps Girard has chosen these animals to represent forms of strength that are less overt. Instead of showing a powerful and aggressive lion we see a tortoise - the strength of determination, maybe? We see the bird, with a delicate chain in its beak – perhaps this is the strength of skill and craftsmanship? At the top of the piece we see the moth, which could even have a double meaning – the quiet strength of being able to blend and adapt, or even the strength of re-birth and new beginnings.

La Force : Cynthia Girard, gouache sur papier, 30 x 40 cm, 2009 courtesy marieclaudebouthillier.org

The Hanged Man is a card that represents how we can choose to remain inactive and let fate determine the outcomes - our ability to 'let go.' Stéphanie Béliveau's interpretation of this card clearly shows this, with the figure of Le Pendu being very similar to the original Tarot. Béliveau's work looks like it has gone through the photocopier a few times and the use of mixed materials gives this monochrome piece a grungy and edgy look. What makes this card even more interesting is the tranquil smile on the face of The Hanged Man, which I think is appropriate to the card's symbolism of self reflection.

Lucky Number 13: The Unnamed Arcana, (which also commonly called the Death card). This card typically depicts a skeletal Death wielding his scythe. You would think that this card forewarns ill-fortune, but it's quite the opposite. According to the Tarot this card signifies change and new beginnings. Patrice Fortier has used collage in this representation of the card; where Death is dressed in what looks like golfing attire. Beneath Death, we see cut out dolls' heads buried in the ground. This card uses the symbolism of 'the harvest' to portray change and re-birth; and maybe these dolls heads represent ideas that are waiting to grow and develop. This version of Sans Nom has been finished off nicely with gold leaf in the boarder and the Number 13.

La Tempérance stands out considerably in this collection. Marie-Claude Pratte's style is fluid, bold and quite dark in comparison to many of the feminine pieces in Le Tarot de Montréal. The meaning of this card is reconciliation and harmony, and the traditional Temperance shows an angel pouring liquid from one pitcher to another. In Pratte's depiction of the card we see more of a fallen-angel (a jukie-esque woman with an angel tattoo on her upper arm). This piece is a bit more provoking than some of the other works in this collection, but not as uplifting. To me this contradicts the cards meaning of harmony and equilibrium; but perhaps this interpretation is more about the hope of finding balance and harmony.

La Tempérance : Marie-Claude Pratte, gouache et acrylique sur papier, 30 x 40, 2009 courtesy marieclaudebouthillier.org

For a card representing The Devil, Max Wyse has created what I think is a bright and punchy art work. This collage of pastel and ink has a limited colour platelet of cool hues from lime green to a touch of aquamarine, watermelon tones and a hint of yellow. Le Diable has been represented here as a creature with four human legs and a green silhouet of a head placed at the intersection of the legs. Wyse showcases his skilled line work in this piece, and we see this especially in the detailed drawings of the two cobra heads that The Devil is perched upon. This hybrid human-spider devil is backed by the familiar five-pointed star on the pastel green and pink background.

The House of God card (also referred to as The Tower in other Tarot versions), usually indicates catastrophe and ruin brought on by our own ego. Traditionally the card shows two people falling from a tower struck down by lightning; the force of God. In Sonia Haberstich's representation of La Maison-Dieu the ill-fortune associated with the card is lost, as her animated and bold style makes her work quite entertaining. With the array of mixed materials ranging from ink, beads, glue, digital image and other craft objects – the collage is so bright and busy it looks like a candy store. The presence of God is shown as a sleepy omniscient eye watching down on the two figures that look like garden gnomes. This piece has this soft, textile sense to it, and looks almost edible! (But I wouldn't try it; I think the craft stick-on-eyes are a bit of a choking hazard…)

Following on from La Maison-Dieu, another collage that is heavy on the craft and mixed media is L'Étoile. Louise Mercille has used a black and white self portrait to represent the figure in this card. The Star card signifies inspiration and protection, and depicts a woman with a vessel kneeling next to the body of water. Above the figure, Mercille has formed the star from a collage of print, sequins and flower shaped beads. The star radiates above the woman's head like a crown, representing the card’s symbolism of inspiration and ideas. To the left of the kneeling woman is a green leaf garland, with a small golden candle placed at the centre. This makes a nice break from the rest of the composition that consists only of black, white, silver and gold. Overall, this is a tranquil and alluring piece.

L’Étoile : Louise Mercille, collage photo, matériaux divers, 30 x 40 cm, 2009 courtesy marieclaudebouthillier.org

The next art work is very similar to its predecessor, with regards to the tranquil mood of the piece. La Lune was created by Emmanuelle Léonard, who has stayed very true to the original Arcana in regards to the composition and the imagery of the two wolves, the moon and a body of water. This is quite a dark and moody piece in comparison to many of the works in this exhibition, and as I peer into the depths of this piece, I see myself and the reflection of the Arcanas on the wall behind me. This makes me think of the moon being reflected upon water, and I realize this arrangement has been carefully thought out by the curator. I still wonder, however, what the exhibition would have been like if the works were displayed like spread one would see during a real Tarot reading?

The Moon is obviously followed by The Sun. This piece is a cheerful contrast to the previous two works, and David Fafrance's naïve style and bright colour palette easily convey the ideas and symbolism associated with the card. Le Soleil represents growth, abundance and radiance; and in this interpretation of the card we see an almost childlike depiction of a garden. The sun itself has a human face, and beams down on two figures playing in a fountain. It's not clear if the figures are children or statues that are a part of the fountain. Curator Bouthillier does mention that one interpretation of this is that the wall around the figures represents the Garden of Eden.

Sylvie Bouchard's version of Le Judgement is more abstract in its composition, I believe, even in comparison to some of the busy collages in this collection. The card traditionally shows three figures rising from their tombs after being called from their tombs by and angel with a trumpet. Without knowing the meaning of the card, it would be difficult to decipher the symbols and elements that Bouchard has used. Done with ink on Japanese paper, we see two monkeys with trumpets, playing on top of some geometric shapes. Growing out of some puzzle-like blocks of colour on the floor are some small branches. Within these branches is a nest containing eggs and some items of clothing. The card symbolizes an announcement, new projects and transformation. Perhaps this is what the nest of eggs and the growing branches stand for?

Le Monde conveys ideas about our existence and place in the world. Done with watercolor and collage, Nancy Belzile has used the four elements to represent the world. The World card usually shows a naked woman covered with leaves and surrounded by angels and animals. Belzile has kept some of these essential elements, and has placed a woman in the centre of the piece with reeds and grass growing around her. Below is a blue puddle that represents water, to the right a flame for fire, and above an odd four-winged and feathered bird to represent air. Each of the four elements have been placed inside a white orb, with each one connected to the woman with a hot-pink beam. This arrangement reminds me of a diagram of the solar system, which is fitting to the card's symbolism of the cosmic consciousness.

The last card of the Tarot is Le Mat. This card shows a figure on a journey being chased by a dog. In this representation of The Fool photographer Kim Waldron has posed as the pilgrim with her own dog. The Fool signifies someone on a journey with infinite possibilities, with the dog biting at their ass as a reminder to take council. Waldron's photograph shows a beautiful country side; a lush forest on the cliff side next to a river. The traveler has set out to explore this beautiful scene, but has not considered that they are braving the Canadian elements without their Canadian Goose jacket. Also, they are prepared to go hiking only in a pair of Ked's (and without any socks) – very foolhardy indeed.

This touring exhibition gives great insight to 23 different artists' styles and the ways they communicate their art. The mediums showcased range from paint, to photography, to ink, to pen to pastels… and even glitter and bells. In having to interpret and recreate the major Arcana in a contemporary mind frame, the artists' thought and work process are revealed to the viewer. In all, I could describe Le Tarot de Montréal as seductive and whimsical, with its vast mix of styles and moods. These works were on display at Maison de la Culture Cote-des-Neiges until January 9, 2011, and are in circulation around Montreal until August 2011.