Gwenael Bélanger challenges you to choose your favourite inkblot.

Mars 2002

Postmodern Art Not Crap

Exhibit challenges notions of our visual world
by Amy Hasinoff

Gwenaël Bélanger is making a Metro ride a little more intellectual.

The Montreal artist’s latest exhibit, now showing at Skol, consists of two pieces titled “Questions de Goût” and “Cible de Choix.” The first work is less an exhibit than a mention of a project on the green line of the Montreal Metro, which continues until March 4. Bélanger has put up a series of posters which ask questions about beauty and taste. One poster asks, “choose the nicest inkblot,” of the nine that it displays. Another asks, “choose the most perfect line,” of a series of crooked lines, and another demands, “choose the cake most loaded with poetic meaning,” of an array of cake illustrations, seemingly from a 19th century cookbook.

Copies of these posters are available at Skol and viewers are invited to take one. The new inkblot poster in my room now happily sparks controversy, confusion, and discussions about postmodern art.

Had the posters been simply put up in a gallery, I might have been a little less enthusiastic. Forcing some one who’s already in an art gallery to think about art and aesthetics is not really a challenge, but asking the average person riding the metro is an interesting and important task. Delightfully, Bélanger’s work exploits the very thing he criticizes, traditional advertising space. He questions how we confront the inundation of corporate images.

Bélanger admits that many Metro passengers assume the posters are teasers for a new product. But most are concerned with answering the question correctly, when really Bélanger’s whole point is that the choice is arbitrary. “The notion of beauty changes all the time,” Bélanger says, elaborating that what a person finds beautiful will depend on context and on a host of other factors.

The second part of the exhibit is, quite simply, a small room. The work, “Cible de Choix,” expands on the theme of arbitrary choice. Three uninterrupted walls are occupied by an orderly array of white silhouettes on a bright red background. Darts are provided without instruction, but the images are invitingly pierced with numerous holes from previous participants. A small ledge jutting out from the back wall reveals that the silhouettes are all derived from ugly clip-art images. Like the posters in the Metro, this work demands in a less directed fashion that you choose an image, and it consequently asks you to evaluate “why?” Bélanger explains that this work presents a darker comment about the subversive, manipulative nature of advertising and product design. He says the work explores the notion that companies target specific demographics. “You think you have the choice, but actually you are manipulated,” Belanger notes, referring to a consumer’s product preference.

These works effectively communicate that the scores of product choices we make every day are not, as Bélanger says, “true choice.” The reason we choose one product over another is partly determined by the corporations themselves, but ultimately these choices are of little consequence. Belanger’s work accomplishes clear goals, and though it crosses into the potentially dangerous area of postmodern art, I found its visual simplicity effective and its attention to design refreshing.

Gwenaël Bélanger’s work is at Skol, 460 Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Espace 511, until March 16.