Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nicolas Grenier, Patrick Bérubé and Jean-Robert Drouillard.

Three more shows from a recent trip to Montreal.
Grenier, Take Care Pt. 2

The landscaping of implosion

For the past few years, Nicolas Grenier has been painting the landscapes of planned communities in a sickly infrared glow. "Proximités," his latest show at Art Mur, caustically displays the compartmentalized lives of the increasingly fragmentary classes and the murky ideological divide between them. He manages to render the social implosion currently taking place with an aesthetic depersonalization and clarity which is rare.
Grenier, We Enjoy The Proximity Of Others

His lushly hued paintings point to the run-in between abstraction and corporate art, something which haunted the work of so many designers in the 80s and early 90s with their reliance on the period's rapidly dating graphics software. He presents real estate development plans and flow charts with the deftness and delicacy of a good colour field painter. In this, he effects a kind of switch. Abstraction, the generically insipid background decoration of upwardly mobile homes, soap operas and porn sets across America, comes to dominate the surface with the kind of inversion that was common to baroque interior design and the gardens which surrounded it.

Grenier, Public Private Pt. 2
This fuzziness of space with its breakdown of differentiation, and the concomitant social necessity of attempting to articulate oneself against it, finds its most paranoiac manifestation in political filiation. This tendency is spelled out explicitly across works such as "We Enjoy The Proximity of Others," "Middle Ground" and "Take Care." The hardedge bars for each class hover on the graded colour backing. They don't suggest stable hierarchy so much as the opposite and the arbitrary degree to which an exchange of attitudes can be affected. Class as a game of snakes and ladders. "Middle Ground" in particular points to this destabilization, mockingly suggesting moderation while recognizing that every direction leads from (and back to) the void of the 'public' at the centre of "Public Private Part 2."

 Cracking up

This kind of implosion is mirrored in Patrick Bérubé's show "Irruption/Breaking" at Galerie SAS. Rather than taking on the dubiousness of urban planning, he takes on the objects that fill up such spaces. Bérubé's work often feels like a trip through the utopianism of the 1950s, only re-imagined with a certain sardonic guile. A back humour courses through the work. There's a hint of Roald Dahl in his sensibility which deftly mixes a childish glee at the failures of adult reality and an underlying sense of fascinated disgust.

In a sense, Bérubé presents gag objects. Gag in multiple senses of the words. They are jokes, but they are something you gag on; they can't be digested, the body can't really assimilate them. They are nauseating as much as humorous. The sense of disequilibrium which they create is laced with a recognition of the intrinsic violence which holds together objects of consumption. These 'objects of desire' (not coincidentally, "Objets de tous les désirs" was the name of a group exhibit featuring his work in the same gallery a few months previous) points to the relation between the joke and desire. As Bergson observed, the humorous comes through the breakdown of the mechanical (whether emotional or otherwise) and as his scions Deleuze and Guattari were always insisting, that is the spot of desire and what makes it endlessly reiterate itself – the crackup which is essential to capital commodity and to comedy. Desire is a joke.


In spite of being symbolically defused and somewhat deadened thanks to their gag quality, Bérubé's objects are still sometimes dangerous in a literal way. "Genèse," took up the back room and was effectively fenced off, a sign warning that getting close could cause electrocution. It was a figure in some sand dunes and what appeared to be giant fossilized excrement. A kind of in pulverem reverteris image where the human figurine uncomfortably mirrors the viewer and their ambiguous position as the dandruff shedding drifter in their ambiance. A few feet away, a sink repetitively belched black water, the splashback farcically creating a version of automatiste painting on the porcelain. Birds fly into the panes of glass that resemble mirrors/windows above this space and dotting the wall. The distinction between the two things is eliminated because the inside and outside is in a constant state of erosion in his work. Even nature (in this apparent allusion to "The Birds") seems to find the distinction impossible to make. Likewise, a rocking chair – whose movement would impale it on a nail – sits before a video screen of the stormy 'nature' to be found 'outside'. Like Grenier, his work reveals that the public world is only a void. And what is there for a remainder? The artificial world which seals itself off from it, but which is no less dangerous and which, in fact, internalizes this danger through a very strange form of contamination.

The theme of the artwork as a miniaturized and domesticated form of violence runs throughout the show, but is made the most explicit in a set of works hemmed within a tiny room. Hanging from the wall, an image excretes puffs of smoke – production rendered literally as a banal vapidity. Beside it, a crib contains two transparent plastic casts of stuffed animals, each filled up with cigarette butts. This makes most explicit his continual obsession with the containment of filth within pristine conditions which still allow it to be viewed. The whole show feels like a test course for behaviourally deviant children. The viewer walks though the space like a guinea pig or potential buyer in a condo showroom.

On the outs

In stark contrast to the previous two artists, Jean-Robert Drouillard's work has an explicit folk quality. His show "Nous étions humains" at Galerie Lacerte continues his semi-autobiographical approach, presenting a set of mythologized figures bearing animal heads upon their human heads. One can almost imagine Drouillard's vaguely totemic creatures living in the alleys, fields and sewers outside the confines of Bérubé's world. Mundane characters are transformed into archetypes. There is an explicit orientation to clans or gangs in his work. Drouillard claims an overriding filiation with the traditional work of artisans, particularly those working in his region of Quebec. His figures are set in triangulation which flirt with seduction and violence.

This is a very different kind of fantasy. Bérubé's works generally revolve around an implied body and return the subject to the body. They circle around, burbling like the black water from his black hole. His work has a nowhere quality. Drouillard's work has specificity on its side, but it is not the specificity of a subject with its articulated body and its paranoiac investments in the body politic, as seen in Grenier. Unlike the painter's seamless visions of the fantasies of control, Drouillard's work bares all of the marks of its making. The grain of the wood is always seeping though the skin. Crude gouges can be found while inspecting the bodies but they have no sense of wounds.

While each sculpture is unique, they are never properly personalized. They never really have faces, only heads baring the flickering insignia of their territory. The area is just an extension of the body. or it might be better to say that the face is articulated as the relationship between bodies, as the map which they function as when they are placed in contact. The doubling of human and animals heads (or skulls) insists on their primary impersonality, both in terms of being an impersonation and of unmooring the body from its personhood. They insist on their artificiality in approximately the same way that Hobbes and the early materialists spoke of nature as artificial, an artificiality which recognizes no boundaries but which slips through everything in indifference. If his totems come in a particularly familial form, it is to point to the fluidity which passes between the figures. They have no proper names, just titles which function as index points within an elliptical narrative. Like Bérubé's birds, which cannot discern between the natural and artificial but assimilate them all on one plane, Drouillard's characters are not human or animal. They aren't hybrids either. In none of these artists can be seen any kind of hybridity. They've gone further than that, if in very different directions.

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