Silent Crashes

Henry Lehmann
Sunday, April 27, 2003

L'art qui fait boum! is the group behind a show at Marché Bonsecours, not its theme. Still, with objects in free-fall, crashed wooden cars and emotional wrecks, some of the artists have humanity on some kind of collision course

It should be explained right from the start that the show L'art qui fait boum!, La Triennale de la relève québécoise en art includes no drums or canned thunder. Yet several among the 20 works are about things that crash, sometimes in oddly deafening silence. The juried exhibition of sculptures and installations, part of an event that also includes short movies, was organized by a nonprofit association, itself called L'art qui fait boum!, dedicated to the promotion of cutting-edge art by young artists.

In Gwenael Bélanger's striking set of colour photos called Chutes (objets), or falling objects, we don't get the cathartic satisfaction of the final crack or thump of the objects in apparent free-fall.

The images are arranged in two rows, one above the other, so that any two vertically aligned photos suggest a fall and its aftermath. But the upper and lower pictures depict different objects; and the lower object is also seemingly caught freeze-frame in space. In one image, we see the lower legs and shoes of a man presumably dropped from some height, an eerie if unintended allusion to people jumping from windows during 9/11. At least in this image, we can be grateful that there is no conclusion and that the only suspense is the suspension of disbelief.

Other panels in this work include images of celery, a flower pot, a fan and a doll, the latter's straw-coloured hair flying in all direction as it sails head-first toward eternity. Of course, it's possible that the objects are not actually falling but held by invisible wires, in which case we get a kind of double fiction, in that the events are obviously staged. It's worth noting that these photographs have little in common with Eadweard Muybridge's pioneering studies in motion. Aside from their delightful uncertainties and the way they reawaken a childish fascination with the thought of falling through space, these works are mainly meditations on the nature of fact and fiction and what happens when they collide.

Things that go boom are also the subject of David Lafrance's shambling installation: his assortment of tape, wall painting and wooden vehicles seems on the verge of falling apart.

Called Accidents et déversements (accidents and spills), Lafrance's work features a wooden car the size of a small chest of drawers lying on its side, and apparently not just so that we can better see its antiqued, textured underbody, vaguely resonant of those "woody" station wagons of the 1950s.

This artful accident gives us the aftermath but in no way compares to the grisly smash-ups documented in Andy Warhol's infamous Accident series. To go by the text accompanying this show, Lafrance's creation is the starting line for consideration of life's basic absurdity. We read: "There is no good explanation for why motorists drive so badly. Was alcohol a factor? How does one return to normal life after an event like this?" But if what's referred to here is Lafrance's simulated accident, it's all too easy to let bygones be bygones.

Interestingly, it's Lafrance's seemingly passive wall paintings and collages that stay with us, refusing to recede in the rear-view mirrors of our minds. The tape and roughly painted human effigies add up to a kind of complex, deformed hex symbol to which we are afraid to turn our backs.

Meanwhile, in Michel Patry's series of black-and-white photos, the actual crashes have taken place sometime in the past. The beat-up cars and other bits of twisted scrap, have been thrown together to form jagged shrines to industrial transience, reminding us of the ultimate future of all dream cars.

Yet, set in the bleakest of winter landscapes, these industrial "sculptures," one per picture, are not altogether cause for lamentation. In fact, in their grey-white context, each is a veritable oasis, the witty title of Patry's series, itself a twist on the way we understand the relationship of nature to culture.

Crack-up rather than crash is the theme of Chloé Lefèbvre's decidedly low-tech installation, titled Bonne Fête and focusing in a sense on emotional meltdown.

Placed in proximity to each other are a plastic container filled with marble-size white objects; the colour photo of an unappetizing cloth birthday cake; and an image of what seems to be the birthday child herself. In the photo she looks quite embalmed, her birthday helmet of bunny ears and white fuzz more suggestive of the lining of a coffin; her tightly closed eyes suggest extreme agony, past or present, physical or mental.

One of the few artists in the show even referring to the possibility of emotional liberation is Eve Tremblay. Her splashy colour photographs are collectively titled Les dédales d'Ariane (Ariadne's maze).

With "dédale" also referring to Daedalus, the title is a riddle, a reference to two parts of a Greek myth: one about human flight and the most legendary crash in aviation history, the other about innovation, pluck and escape from a maze.

Certainly, there is a hint of both tragedy and of light at the end of the tunnel in this sequence of images purportedly following the progress of a woman right out of Botticelli through a verdant labyrinth of bushes. Her pilgrimage is punctuated by vaguely commercial, sultry poses, and concludes with a picture in which the woman gazes rather grimly at an equally grim young man. It seems the two have found each after some unexplained separation.

This reunion appears to be at once a kind of conquest and liberation, though in an Eden menacingly divided by a wire fence. Poking up against this implement of constraint is the moist nose of a deer, possibly an ambassador from either the wild or peaceable kingdom but more likely an inmate of a zoo.

Of course, it all depends which side of the fence you are on, and viewers with a morbid view on life and a liking for meaningful cliché may decide that it's the people who are in the zoo, with the beast free and looking in from the outside; the two worlds, humanity and nature, are on a collision course.

Certainly, this show filled with silent clashes is almost devoid of traditional concern for painterly concepts of composition or form and colour for their own sakes.

Indeed, the artists selected seem obsessed with imparting messages about the human condition, each more urgent than the next - yet taken together they seem oddly less than urgent. Rather, the pleasures to be found in this show are of a somewhat academic nature, with each work demanding to be analyzed and decoded.

As for a general prognosis on the human condition, it seems things are not unfolding as we would like. In fact, the world, at least that which is personal, may well end how it started - with a big bang.

L'art qui fait boum!, La Triennale de la relève québécoise en art is at the Marché Bonsecours, 350 St. Paul St. E. until June 8. Admission is $3. Call (514) 844-4388, Local 225