Friday, May 06, 2005

Weather Permitting(s): Julie Andrée T "Weather Report / Potentiels Évoqués" at Skol Gallery

"Change of weather is the discourse of fools".
Thomas Fuller

Like any gallerist exhibiting the same old artists year after year, I am pretty loyal when I decide that I love one artist.

Usually when I name my five favorite recent artists from Québec, I never forget to mention Julie Andrée T., an artist whose work involves performance and installations, and who came a long way since her beginnings when she reminded me of young Rebecca Horn for drawing stuff on walls with a head mask.

Though she's been on the cover of recent publications with pictures of performances I have not yet seen, I was still anxious to know if T's new show at Skol Gallery was going to entice me as much as her previous works did.

No feelings to hide: I was pleasantly suprised. In fact, in a collection of deceptive shows that I had seen recently in my hometown, I can argue that this exhibit is one of the best in Montreal since the beginning of the year.

Admittedly, her new work made me think of yet another fave artist of mine, non-other than art star Jane Cardiff, but only because she borrowed one of her format of building micro, solo, theatres. The comparison ends there, rather abruptly.

For where Cardiff is interested in narrative and how they shift from your perception to mine, Julie Andrée T. is more attracted by the concrete and physical: Are you experiencing the space the same way I do? These 5 sculptural "devices", as they are called, set in the Skol space as one installation (it would help her carreer if she would title the pieces and propose them separately, the only minor flaw in the exhibit) force the spectator to engage themselves in micro-performances involving serious shift of their bodies, both voluntary and unvoluntary. The pretext ? The weather, a theme that is not original to T. but really much more of reply to a common dialogue amongst artists of her generation. In fact there has been a few collective shows borrowing this theme in recent years, and its obvious connection to inner sensual moods.

But, given that Julie Andrée had been investigating correlations between the inner senses and the physical exterior since her beginnings, it was
all natural that one day or the other she would encounter the theme of
weather, and besides, her interpretation on the subject is much more thrilling than some of these "other shows" I had in mind a few seconds ago.

What indeed would be the best way to represent the psychological state of weather than to focus on sculptural works that are entirely made for the head ? Most of the sculptures here offer orifices where you need to insert or appose your head in order to experience them. These works do not come to you easily. They involve one-to-one full participation.

The first booth directly invokes your
stream of consciousness, by letting you envision the video path of a train advancing on a railway, as they are tiny speakers on the side adding a dramatic escapist effect to what constitute a modest, homemade version of a virtual reality tester.

But where it becomes much less virtual, and the principal poetry at work, is that a huge ventilator at the back is blowing over your face, so that, as you focus
your thoughts on the stream of the train, you get a physical sense from skin response that you are actually there. Fabulous ! A joyride ! The relation body to mind, now turned into a relation landscape to mind, couldn't better be adressed. And with such simple means ? Come on, out there, this could be in a museum.

Next device is similar (a rectangle box of wood perpendicular to the wall) except that there is no chair to seat on, and no videos to watch, as the tiny space to appose your head on is thoroughly dark.

As you can hear on two little speakers a french commentator describing the process of a snow avalanche, something perky is happening to your face. Just like in a Jana Sterbak installation, there is increasing heat incoming from a hidden grid in the back. If your face is put really firm against the box, it actually becomes untolerable.

So just like how with Jana Sterbak's robe there was an antagonism at play between an expression of desire and the expression of an inherent danger, Julie Andrée T is proposing a confrontation between reason, our ability to receive intellectual information, and the ever-underestimated realm of the sensual, how our skin replies to its environment. Always, as it seems, the body opposing the mind ? Come twice: the perticular interest here is how the work is able to transpose a formal idea into physical sense. You can all imagine that an avalanche would constitute a terrific event to encounter, an event likely to be consequential to your death. Well, the work here makes your body suffer a micro-avalanche of sort, with the increasement of the heat, as if something blazing over you and enrobbing you, reconstituting a fair impression of what experimenting an avalanche would be like, at a micro level. At this point it is interesting to note how the exhibit insists on making us realize that the head, what is going on inside and on its surface, is important to our conception of physical realities (such as temperature). What I mean is that Julie's pieces are presented as autistic condensés of sensual states. The fact that you are cut from the throat when you experience them is the major metaphor at play.

The third work is reminiscent of her landmark installation
"Problématiques Provisoires" that played for a couple years since 2002 (and was in my top 10 list that year, and not just a local list). It's relying on the scheme of an apartment, and forces the spectator to do tricks with his body in order to experiment the work. They are 3 little rubber stairs that invites you to climb and pass you head in 3 different hole in a huge wood box attached to the ceiling. This task is not so easy to do, as we loose rapidly sense of equilibrium once our head is inside the said box. A good reason for this is that loud music is played into one of 4 (or was it 8?) little speakers dispersed across the room, but more over that this sound shifts intermittently from one speaker to the other, and thus spins in tango from one corner to the next.

The room is all light red. It both evokes a personal salon, as much as a 3D monochrome. The trick with this work happens when other people insert their heads
through other holes. They all get a perspective of the room similar from the one that you have, but this illusion of sharing a same experience is cut through
vehemently by the fact the sound is constantly shifting from one speaker to the next, delimiting the uniquess of every standpoint through cacophony. The piece demonstrates that music, wrether it's in your apartment or coming from you neighbor's wall, really alter the ambiance (the emotion) of a room.

Under the music (a collection of metal or pop songs chosen by the artist), one can hear an audio version of the
Global manifesto, I supposed narrated by Borduas himself. Actually I wasn't sure what this was and had to ask this information at the desk. It left me a little bit confused. With the loud music and the red I was thinking that the artist had the term "temper" in mind, which emotional link with the term temperature had been slightly over-used for my taste. But I can't really jauge on her intention. If we take the "weather" imperatus (both internal and external) out of the picture, it becomes an interesting play about form, perspective, and an history of art that have reached its limits. It could as well be an hommage to
Françoise Sullivan. I don't think it's all that important since the format itself is dynamic enough to incite curiosity. By inserting my head into the floor of this micro-apartment, I felt like a Maurizio Cattelan peaking into an Ilya Kabakov installation. I don't think this work needs to reduce itself to Quebec history. She should do a bunch of them and call them monochromes. It could be big.

The fourth booth ( I really hate that they aren't titled) is a double-windowed compartment, on which reversed letters are written on each window, in a way that in order to read them right, you need to gaze across the reversed letters and read on the opposite window across the micro compartment.

Now...on the theory(ies) of "Screen", that middle point of perspectivism that we could refer to as "sight", Julie André T is doing as great or even better than exhibiting neighbor Pascal Grandmaison, high on hype at René Blouin a few steps on stairs, and who's got a museum exhibition coming up. While Grandmaison pursues his interest with minimalists, and transcribing their language into a deconstruction of photography, Julie Andrée engages the spectators (again, her sculptures are actually performance scenes for spectators) into experiencing a similar reality first hand. Crossing the gap of a vacuum, a sculptural expression of a threshold, the reader is attracted by the sentances leaning unto the glass before their interlocutor, another spectator gazing in their opposite direction.

I am not so sure again that commitment to a theme of weather is reached easily, but given the very domestic aspect of this work, she covers very well her usual interest on space's shareability. Actually, the piece sound more like a work that was made to respond to the general theme proposed by Skol for the year's program. It's as if Julie is trying to negociate a response to skol and the pursue of her own new interests in sensual scapes. Or maybe she aimed at that furtive instant when the cognitive is lost in chaos right before our eyes meet a sentance that can formulate sense (as they are floating in the middle of nowhere, reaching you by chance from the opposite window).

The last "device" is frankly the best, and the only reason why it wouldn't be a high spot in a museum is that it involves too much danger: to be able to experience the work you need to climb a wood scale that felt a little shakey for my taste. I was wishing that a ramp be installed so that I could hold myself as I inserted my head in one of the two holes.

Now...I can imagine the intensity of trying this work with a partner, as from the top
your two heads are meeting face to face in what could be best described as.. a boxed cloud (!), meaning that dry ice smoke is pouring constantly inside this little rectangle of wood, attached high next to the ceiling.

Once your eyes have been accustomed to this new radical environment, the best expression of weather since Olafur Eliasson or Micol Assaël (couldn't find a link to the piece I had in mind), now unapologetically adressed as a "head-only thing", you are realizing that the walls are covered with typical bathroom ceramics, while some sort of Turkish music is playing throughout two tiny speakers installed in opposite angle.

From the first romantic idea of a cloud we move quickly to a concept of steam and
turkish bath, if you can ever imagine a more
sensual affair. Being cut through as you are from reality happening beneath, I was remembering another artist who had played with a similar notion of low-technological-means vistual reality at the exact same gallery, a few years ago.

Except that at that time (spring 1999), the artist, Diane Létourneau was mostly concerned with landscape, and re-adapting a tradition of representation with current technological models. Julie-Andrée is expanding this idea from representation, as her work focusses on unvoluntary, yet guiding, bodily response.

At any rates, it goes simply that I thought it was already a genius idea to just bring me this up into the air, "head in the cloud" as they say, but now that it turned into "head right up the turkish bath" I was in extasis.

But to counter that extasis, Julie Andrée, who really got more than one trick
in her bag, added another element to her piece, which are audio extracts
(let me note that I really appreciate when loops are short when I'm put into such conditions) of people relating about floods and other weather disasters that made them loose their houses. From the first impression of being in a funhouse, the notion of being "right in the middle of it" started to shift, intellectually. Again, and always, the tension between reason and passion is perpretrated. What are you allowing to receive as pleasurable from this experience, from what you are ready to reflect upon ?

If there is one point that Julie André T crossed finely with her exhibit,
is how weather can be both the source of immediate fun and irremediable pain.
But I think that what she is truly asking is, given all the theory about landscape
being appropriated by thought, than are we always so subdued and victim to weather or are we able to control our reception of it, with the help of facculties from the mind.

Oh, the hell... Just don't miss it,

Cedric Caspesyan

Julie Andrée T: "Weather Report / Potentiels Évoqués"
15 April to 14 May 2005
Skol Gallery
372 Sainte-Catherine West
Space 314


Blogger Zeke's, the Montreal Art Gallery said...


I didn't miss it, thanks to you. And it was the best stuff we saw yesterday.

Thanks for the head's up.

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