en / fr
b 32
La Chambre Blanche
Bulletin n°32 - 2008
b 32
La Chambre Blanche
Bulletin n°32 - 2008

Michel Certeau’s concept of the “the practice of space” find its relevance in LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE’s 2007-2008 season. It is indeed question of constructive moves and perceptual reversals, in a space that was successively broken, ritualized, fleeing, naturalized and updated during the five residencies that followed one another, each requiring a different posture on the part of the viewers who “practice” the space through the artworks.

Fnoune Taha throws a philosophical light on Virginia Medeiros’ approach. The Brazilian artist’s artwork À contre-sens covers the transgression of gender and social class. Videos shot in an underprivileged area of Salvador, show the diverted paths of two marginal, Simone and Preta.

Jean-Pierre Guay chronicles Gabriela Garcia-Luna’s last voyage, Universos relativos, true rite of passage in three steps by which the Mexican artist approaches the death of his father. It is a matter of suspending time to reach somewhere else by crossing the present reality.

With Possible Worlds, a sort of construction site, artist Erik Olofsen seeks to deconstruct our perception of space. Annie Hudon Laroche underlines how the artist realizes constantly ‘fleeting’ spaces, between fiction and reality, through ‘’ mises en abyme’’, duplication and juxtapositions.

In Ivana Adaime Makac’s Le banquet, plant sculptures under glass domes are animated by the chirping of crickets: six enclosed spaces doubling back on the slow pace of small worlds, combining life and death, summoning, “the delicious or the abject’’. In his text, Denis Lessard recalls the relation between insects and creation.

Sébastien Hudon covers Exils intérieurs from Belgium artist Els Vanden Meersch. In the exhibition room in a sort of black bunker, photographs of empty interiors both strange and familiar, instill an unstoppable anguish: their icy austerity evokes the barren rigidity of totalitarianism.

Jacqueline Bouchard
1. Virginia de Medeiros Against the grain from October 19 to November 11, 2007
2. Gabriela Garcia-Luna Universos relativos: the final voyage, in three movements from November 12 to December 16, 2007
3. Erik Olofsen Possible Worlds from January 7 to February 24, 2008
4. Ivana Adaime Makac Crickets in residence from March 3 to April 20, 2008
5. Els Vanden Meersch Exiles of the interior from April 28 to June 15, 2008
1. Virginia de Medeiros. Against the grain. from October 19 to November 11, 2007

Against the grain

par Fnoune Taha
Virginia de Medeiros from October 19 to November 11, 2007

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

″Come, enter the circle, we will all squeeze up to make room. We have been waiting for you. If we retain only one fact relating to him, it would be a thought that was so familiar, so necessary to him, speaking of his most intimate conviction: that one must always ″make space for the other.″1

Virginia de Medeiros was born in Feira de Santana in 1973. The Brazilian artist’s exhibition at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE consisted of video works, produced during her stay and site-specific work in Quebec City. Following the completion of her Masters in Visual Arts, de Medeiros decided to pursue her own artistic experimentation. Before focusing on the medium of video, her work centered on painting, followed by photography, resulting in a series entitled Femmes pré-moulées (1995). This series marked out the terrain of future enquiries, notably attitudes to the body and relations with the other, and the social position of women. The work that she undertook during her residency in Quebec focused on the notion of the ‘fault’. The word ″fault″ is (nowadays) part of everyday speech, and defines disruptive elements that do not fit within conventional forms of order. That said, the artist sought to stay as close as possible to the etymology of the word. In geological terms, ″a fault is a planar fracture or discontinuity in a volume of rock, across which there has been significant displacement. Active faults are the cause of most earthquakes.″2

This geological definition was born out fully in the artist’s work, in terms of her analysis of the differences and similarities between the city of Quebec and that of Salvador in Brazil. Like Salvador, Quebec is constructed on two levels, possessing a downtown and uptown area. This separation in the urban landscape is revelatory of the social inequality and prejudices that have set in over time. These two distant cities, both in terms of geography and culture, found themselves juxtaposed through an approach that did not seek to simply critique; it was not a matter of noting that the richer part of the population live uptown whilst those less well off live downtown. Rather, the project sought to infiltrate the two cities through the heart of the fault that lies within them.

According to Virginia de Medeiros and her collaborator, the urbanist Silvana Oliviéri, initially speaking, a ″fault″ is a term describing the marginal, those who are excluded by society because they have chosen to live outside of the system. In Salvador, the artist recounts the story of the transvestite Simone and that of Mae Preta. In Quebec, Virginia decided to follow itinerants in the Saint-Roch downtown area. Despite the differences between the two worlds, the artist adopted the same methods, doggedly pursuing individuals able to introduce spectators to other realities.

The public entering LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE’s exhibition space were immediately drawn towards a projection of the film Gardienne de la fontaine, produced in 2007. The images show a young Brazilian transvestite, Simone, avidly explaining her ″reconversion″ thanks to God’s love. He tells Virginia how, following a crack overdose, he changed from being a transvestite to a man of faith, preaching to all who will listen of his expiation and his new life. In a kind of mystic delirium, that the artist notably shares in, Virginia follows Simone both as a woman and in the subject’s new state as a man. We quickly understand that Simone is a loner, rejected by those around her. This solitude is underlined by the filmic effects that the artist employs, often placing herself behind the subject and only rarely appearing on camera. Similar to an anthropologist, the artist seeks to keep an objective distance from the object of her research. At the same time, it is this very sense of distance that enables the spectator to understand that what he/she is witnessing via the camera is above all a gaze. This is a vision that, ultimately, marks a form of questioning that is far from deterministic in nature.

How to be a woman? Is Simone a broken mirror of ″womanhood?″ By treating the body as a form of representation, the artist is able to draw the spectator into a deep reflexion on his/her own position in the social fabric and relationship with otherness. Virginia de Medeiros’s work with Silvana Oliviéri aims to be transgressive. It shows the appropriation of social codes by an individual, and how this appropriation becomes itself problematic. The ″unstable″ gender of the transvestite continually blurs the characteristics associated with femininity and masculinity. Numerous authors have insisted that femininity and masculinity are not concepts with a grounding in nature. Rather, femininity is a genre, a psychological and physical construct.

According to Judith Butler, a key figure in Queer and Gender Studies, ″To say that gender stems from a form of doing, is merely to state that it is not fixed in time, not a given; it also points to the fact that it is constantly unfolding, even if the form that it takes creates the appearance of something natural, preordained and determined by a structural law. If gender is made, constructed, through certain norms, these same norms are the form that it takes, that which renders it socially intelligible.″3

Moreover, Virginia de Medeiros and Silvana Oliviéri perceive identity not as something that is fixed, but as something that perpetually encounters forms of tension. It is through the prism of these differences that an individual can question his/her essence. The Brazilian artist ″sublimates″ these differences, which, ultimately, become a form of artist material. In this artist’s eyes, accepting alterity means each of us embracing the idea of inner upheaval. According to de Medeiros, difference is, “an agent of transformation.”

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

La gardienne de la fontaine does not recount the story of Simone, it also deals with Mae Preta, an elderly lady who tells us of the difficulty of her life in Salvador. After her home burned down, she was forced to look for new accommodation, despite having few means. Like Simone, Mae Preta was forced to leave behind and redefine her makeup as an individual. Whether it is in terms of identity issues or localizing oneself in the urban context, the characters in the video reinvent their relationship with the city. For example, every day Simone takes care of an abandoned fountain, gathering and burning rubbish, and cleaning the structure in what almost amounts to a pagan rite. The videos shown in the exhibition in Quebec City also showed how itinerants in Saint-Roch appropriate certain sites.

One influence makes itself consistently felt in Virginia’s art practice, that of Michel de Certeau and his book The Practice of Everyday Life4. The artist’s exploration is nurtured by two notable concepts from this seminal work, first published in French in 1980. In defining our relationship with the city and areas within it, Michel de Certeau spoke of strategies and tactics. Strategies involve an approach to power that seeks to locate the subject within subject/object relations. Strategies seek to accumulate a significant amount of goods in order to transform these into profit. Meanwhile, tactics represent ways of life for inhabitants of a given space, for example, going to the market, or drinking a coffee every day in the same cafe. Thanks to an understanding of tactics, the subject/inhabitant is able to create a more poetic relationship with his/her immediate environment, reinventing the everyday, from day to day. Tactics become, “the art of doing” that makes use of faults in the dominant system in order to reinvent itself. However, tactics do not enable one to entirely free of the system. Above all, they introduce the possibility of implementing a distance between oneself and systems. Tactics may also take the form of margins, wherein forms of otherness breath other ways of being in the city. The fact remains that observing these subtle shifts required a committed involvement on the part of artist in working with the people filmed.

Virginia de Medeiros set out to research the everyday experiences of those living in the Saint-Roch area, and their view of the process of revitalization that the area is undergoing. The moments of life that the artist shares with the participants represent these experienes, and constitute emotional encounters that move the artist as deeply as her subjects. A ″fault″ can produce creative energy. The position of the artist becomes fragile, as the encounter with the other is transformed into a necessity. Ultimately, the video works presented at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE embody the possibility of envisaging our environment in ways other than through the grid of identity that at times may seem insurmountable.

  1. Giard, Luce and Michel de Certeau.1980, The Practice of Everyday Life: The art of making-do tI. Paris: UGE editions, pp. 33-34.
  2. Wikipedia [online]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fault_%28geology%29 (consulted on November 11, 2007).
  3. Extract from the paper ″Faire et defaire le genre″ (Undoing gender) , by Judith Butler, Professor at the University of California in Berkeley, given on the 25 May 2004 at l’Université de Paris X-Nanterre, in the context of CREART (Centre de Recherche sur l’Art) and the doctoral program ″Connaissance et Culture″
  4. Certeau, Michel de, Luce Giard and Pierre Mayol. 1980, The Practice of Everyday Life: The art of making-do tI et Living and Cooking tIII. Paris: Gallimard editions. 416 p.
Fnoune Taha
2. Gabriela Garcia-Luna. Universos relativos: the final voyage, in three movements. from November 12 to December 16, 2007

Universos relativos: the final voyage, in three movements

par Jean-Pierre Guay
Gabriela Garcia-Luna from November 12 to December 16, 2007

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

“We must bear witness to our great loss.”1

Shortly before commencing her residency at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE, Gabriela Garcia-Luna lost her father, a doctor, to an incurable illness. The artist’s project Universos relativos drew on her experience of seeing her father, for the first time in her life, as a weakened and vulnerable man. Such was Garcia-Luna’s journey in this work. Universos relativos was first presented as a photographic exhibition in Mexico City in 2006, whilst her father was still alive, and subsequently as an installation at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE at the end of 2007. Faced with the inevitable death of her father, the artist began a creative project focusing on time and memory. As the philosopher Alexis Klimov writes, “To create, is to go through the experience of death.”2

Writing about her project, Gabriela Garcia-Luna explains that, “To deal with my experience of life moving on, whilst the feeling of an unexplainable loss remains, I have begun to explore time as a concept, as a means of investigating other codes and changes in our experience and memory, reflecting on the still-thereness of his presence and the absence to come.”3

Universos relativos seeks to create the memory of an experience lived by the artist at her father’s bedside…During her residency, Gabriela Garcia-Luna sought to illuminate three movements of time: that of existence (cut short in her father’s case) ; sensory time (in which experience and sensations are intensified by an awareness of the time of existence); and conceptual time (alternative, vast and timeless, traced in the movement of our thoughts).”4

Blue: the time of existence

Upon entering the exhibition space, the viewer was struck by the color blue, an effect arising from the presence of nine large-format photographs, three of which were suspended in front of us, with other six arranged in pairs on the wall to our right.

Once this initial impression subsides, we notice a text to our left, printed on the wall, at the foot of which is stood an atlas, its pages open at a map of the sky. The text is taken from L’Atlas de notre temps, and notably explains that, “All of these stars travel together through space, forming a wandering family or a group of suns, which in all likelihood share the same origins.”5 The images that we see in the space are scaled-up negatives of photographs that the artist has taken of numerous small red spots on her father’s skin, symptoms of his terminal illness. Garcia-Luna had no choice from there on in, other than to find a new universe of meaning to accept fatality. She not only transformed these tiny points into a metaphor for the immensity of the universe, but also the relative importance of life. Incidentally, the blue that was revealed in the negatives is also the symbol for infinity, from which all life comes. Beyond the zone of blue in the space, we notice an area dominated by red.

Red : sensory time

A long piece of red fabric links together a series of objects that evoke what we imagine of her father’s life, but also the hope that time may be suspended, settled, faced with the uncertainty of illness. A red armchair is positioned in the center of the space, to the left of which there is a small bedside table, and to the right of which we see a screen on a plinth, covered with the same red fabric.

The artist has opened a small travel chest on the bedside table, which contains three letters : they contain stories of three journeys, which her father has recounted to her mother. One of the letters discusses faraway travels to a Mexico crippled by poverty. Left unfinished, the letter aroused much emotion in the artist. Once again, time is suspended in order to cope with uncertainty. That said, time refuses to stand still.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

An apparently-fixed image appears on the screen, showing the branches of a tree. At the end of one branch we see a single maple leap, clinging persistently. It too is red. The leaf trembles in the wind, then suddenly, in an instant, it gives way, falls loose, and is carried off. The image changes, and we see a mechanical shovel that, in one fail swoop, shatters the bedside table: rupture, loss, death.

Only a handful of people were witness to a key intervention by the artist, the evening prior to her departure. Her decision to paint the whole wall in this area of the space red further heightened the emotive charge of the space. In contrast to the blue section of space that comes before it as we enter, the effect was gripping.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

White : conceptual time

This area of the exhibition space focused on the duality of presence and absence in suspended time. A white chair was indicative of this reality, inviting us to sit and let our thoughts wander, inspired by the objects suspended around us.

Placed at an angle with the wall, a small white bedside table, with an open drawer, evoked the table depicted in the video. On the adjacent wall, a series of heterogenous objects were arranged as though they had spurted out of the draw and flown across the space. As with the other items in the space, these objects evoked the life of her father and different aspects of his personality, and spoke of the relationship between the past and the contents of memory. Objects suspended in the center of the space – which seemed to move as a whole towards the ceiling – symbolized flight. This movement was accentuated by the use of translucent cord, creating the effect of luminous rays.

On the main wall, Garcia-Luna had transformed four window spaces into luminous alcoves. A birdcage was positioned within each of these recesses, illustrating the duality of presence and absence. In many traditions, the soul’s departure from the body is symbolized by a bird. In an interview at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE6 the artist added that her father adored birds.

The installation was accompanied by two soundscapes. The first was created specially for the exhibition by the Mexican artist Diana Andueza. The second, created by Garcia-Luna herself, played in the four corners of the space, and featured the sound of drops of blood as they fell, symbolically, to the floor. The combination of these two soundscapes evoked the body and the soul of now-departed father.

In an interview broadcast on the CKRL radio station7 in Quebec City, Gabriela Garcia-Luna explained that she had worked with the public for the first time during this project. The artist drew up a list of 57 objects, with items ranging from a case for spectacles and a Bic biro, to a set of rosary beads and a caramel sweet. From there, the artist called on ten or so people with whom she formed friendships during her residency to participate in a ritual of sharing and exchange.

The final journey

It is often said that death is the final journey. Gabriela Garcia-Luna’s installation echoed this saying. The notion of the journey was present in the three areas of exhibition space: from the blue of traveling stars, to the red of the chest and the travel letters, to the white of the concluding space, and a video based on the artist’s car journeys with her father. It was as though, carried off by poetry, the human journey is never ending.

Poetry inspires poetry. That of Roland Giguère evokes the memory of Universos Relativos, an installation by Gabriela Garcia-Luna that so eloquently expressed the universality and fragility of life.

“I also know a bleeding star
in its blue vice
whose painful reflection dazzles me
with the dying of each day”8

  1. Beausoleil, Claude, ″Le Grand Hôtel des Étrangers″ in Graveline, Pierre. 2007, ″Les cents plus beaux poèmes québécois″. Montreal: Fides editions, p.24.
  2. Klimov, Alexis. 1985, ″De l’abîme″. Quebec: Du Beffroi editions, p. 42.
  3. Gabriela Garcia-Luna, ″Constellations/ blue″, project dossier accompanying ″Universos relativos″, Mexico, 2005.
  4. Lévesque, Maude. 2007, ″Universos relativos″, Press release, Québec: LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE.
  5. Debenham, Frank. 1964, ″L’Atlas de notre temps: Du centre de la Terre aux limites lointaines de l’espace″. Spanish edition prepared by Francisco Vázquez Maure, Madrid: Sélection Reader’s Digest editions, p.118.
  6. LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE [online]. http://www.chambreblanche.qc.ca/EN/event_detail.asp?cleLangue=2&cleProgType=1&cleProg=1734051703&CurrentPer=File (consulted on december 16, 2007).
  7. CKRL, Interview at Aérospatial with Jean-Pierre Guay and Richard Ste-Marie [online].
    http://www.richardstemarie.net/radiomemoire.org/artsvisuels/Gabriella_Garcia_Luna.html (broadcast on december 5, 2007).
  8. Giguère, Roland. 1988, ″Forêt vierge folle″. Montréal: Typo Poésie editions, p. 118.
Jean-Pierre Guay
3. Erik Olofsen. Possible Worlds. from January 7 to February 24, 2008

Possible Worlds

par Annie Hudon Laroche
Erik Olofsen from January 7 to February 24, 2008

In our spirit, spaces overlap. Our view of the world is colored by the construct of space, both those in which we live and the space of fiction constituted by images and other forms of representation. The boundaries and poles that were once used to mark out our view of the world are fading, enabling us to see gain a glimpse of the transitory spaces that constitute this world. The spaces in question are open, spaces of possibility, to paraphrase the title of Erik Olofsen’s residency Possible Worlds. And so it was that Olofsen transformed the exhibition space at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE into a veritable laboratory of creation, employing time as means of deconstructing space, thereby revealing the spatial relations with which temporality is bound.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

Erik Olofsen’s work evoked the feeling of being on a construction site whose purpose had deliberately been left uncertain, as he transformed the space into an exploratory work in progress. Olofsen’s approach to space echoes Michel de Certeau’s concept of “space as a practice of place.”1The forms of mobility and movement arising from the artist’s actions during his residency engendered such a feeling. A fixed and stable place was thus transformed into a space of movement inscribing Olofsen’s work an in-between space charged with possibilities. The spatial dynamic created was enabled by a play with deceptively ordinary structures which acted as vectors in the space. During the creative process, the artist created assemblages from strips of wood, which protruded from the gallery walls or were placed on the floor, resembling parts of models or shelving. These structures combined with a large quantity of images that were either fixed to the wall, or spread out randomly on the gallery floor.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

Olofsen’s creation of a sense of dislocation in the exhibition space unsettled viewers’ perception of the artist. As a critic of the omnipresence of the image in our experience of space, Erik Olofsen used his residency at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE to pursue a body of work that began with the poetic exploration of Mental Pollution (2007), this time focusing his research on the way that our sense of space is effected. The space set in motion by the artist was above all a sensory space, of both precision and ambiguity, in which a variety of elements were interrelated, each echoing the other, as well as responding to the features of the gallery (the angle of windows, luminosity etc.) Thus, the shape of the work emerged through a network of complex interrelations. Erik Olofsen’s Possible Worlds revealed a number of mechanisms of cognition, not by employing the lure or charm of illusion, but rather by simultaneously staging a number of temporalities and spatial forms, thereby creating slippages in perception. Thus we experienced a deconstruction of space that foregrounded the complexity of perception.

Two key procedures employed by the artist to unsettle the gaze are those of doubling and mise en abîme. The tone is set upon entering the space of Possible Worlds, as we encounter the underside of a large structure held together with an assemblage of wood that seems both incongruous and precarious. The same wooden assemblage is reprised in a photograph elsewhere in the exhibition. Visitors have only to scan the space to catch sight of another doubling of structures, in the form of full-scale images of shelving on a wall, placed alongside the real structures that they represent. For all viewers inclined to be the least bit curious and attentive, the game is already underway: that of seeking out possible combinations and correspondences between two and three-dimensional forms in space. This play on the space between fiction and structure – at times breathtaking – was underscored by the use of mise en abîme processes in the exhibition space. For example, an assemblage composed of small pieces of multicolored wood and elastic was pictured in a photograph, next to another image depicting a similar structure, placed beside a third photograph of the composition. Thus structural, fictional and imaginary spaces are interwoven within the core of our perception. Our gaze is unsettled by the juxtaposition and repetition of similar elements in the space, but also the presence of photographs that depict various stages of the creative process. A form of living memory emerges in the evolving space of the residency project. The past, present and future of the work appear side by side; photographs of the space prior to the project were on show early on, inviting the viewer to speculate on the transformations to which the space would be subject later on in the residency. Thus, visitors to the space are repeatedly invited to reevaluate the space in which they find themselves, through the range of photographic imagery and points of view with which they are confronted. That said, a certain distance emerges between our initial encounter and later perception of the space, enabling the shaping of a critical perspective on the project.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

Possible Worlds offered a space of reflection, enabling the setting aside of fixed, stable and singular view points that emphasize functionality, in order to explore and experiment with the experience of fleeting spaces. As shown, these spaces came to the fore through our temporal experience of space, as well as our experience of moving between physical and cognitive forms. The artist’s focus on strategies of doubling, juxtaposition and mise en abîme enabled the activation of such fleeting spaces and the dawning of a sense of the richness and complexity of these worlds.

  1. Certeau, Michel de. 1980, L’invention du quotidien, Arts de faire tI. Paris: Gallimard Editions, p. 172.
Annie Hudon Laroche
4. Ivana Adaime Makac. Crickets in residence. from March 3 to April 20, 2008

Crickets in residence

par Denis Lessard
Ivana Adaime Makac from March 3 to April 20, 2008

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

He rests,
before winding his tiny watch.
Is it finished, broken ? He rests a little more,
returns home and closes the door.
And so time slips away, as he turns the key in the watch’s delicate mechanism.
– Jules Renard – Histoires naturelles

In the depths of winter, the first thing that we hear upon entering Adaime Makac’s installation at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE is the sound of crickets. A pair of stools is positioned either end of six vivaria, in a game of mirroring. The receptacles house a ‘sculpture’ composed of a range of items that are planted in a bed of foam: flowers, fruit, and snacks. The scene evokes a Dutch still-life, with its mix of natural and artificial flowers. A forest of broccoli is sprinkled with pebble forms that reveal themselves to be rice balls. A carnival of fresh and dried tropical fruit offers up larger-than-life colors. As we look closer, we see that that each vivarium is inhabited by a colony of domestic crickets.

Adaime Makac’s Le Banquet lends a voice to these insects. She gives them center stage, as she has done with other animals in previous projects.2 The spectator is positioned in the role of voyeur, catching his/her reflection and the gaze of the other in the glass of the vivaria. Adaime Makac created a similar scenario in Observatoire (2007), an installation that took the form of a large table covered with mirrored tiles. Visitors were invited to sit at the table and observe the behavior of living mice, who made their way out from a small cube-shaped refuge at one end of the table. In this work, the mouse was a form of stand-in for the artist, the performer, the clever animal whose prowess we anticipate. In formal terms, the cube-shaped refuge that housed the rodents, which was also covered with mirrors, resembled the monolithic sculptures found in Le Banquet.

Le Banquet explored duration. It was as though the artist had created a situation, and then withdrawn leaving it to evolve, limiting herself to a few gestures of upkeep of the space, such as the selection of which detritus to conserve, and which elements to replace. In a manner of speaking the work ″makes itself,″ following its course in an almost-autonomous fashion, almost independently of the author/maker. In this respect/regard, the author Évelyne Toussaint speaks of, ″the artist who is content to lay out an arrangement of elements, setting the stage for improvisation.″3 Much time slips away before we see any ‘results’″4 remarks Adaime Makac, commenting on her video works. The artist, « seeks to accentuate a certain slowness and sense of repetition.″ The absence of spectacle is offset by the setting, whether the monoliths featured in Le Banquet, or the often-dramatic, color-saturated lighting that bathes the scenes she portrays in her video and photographic works. As the artist underlines, ″light acts as a costume.″

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

In Le Banquet, Adaime Makac once again chooses to work with insects, and more specifically orthopterans, having employed the shed skins of migratory locusts in Collection (Ready-dead) (2006), an installation presented at bbb in Toulouse. Spread out on a bed of black quartz, the cricket remains, which were collected on a beach in Libya, were embellished with sequins and adorned with makeup. This work prefigures Le Banquet, the title of a video installation created in 2005. The artist, working with live crickets this time, documented three stages of the destruction of a bouquet of flowers placed in a cage housing the insects. The staging of Le Banquet at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE did not result in the production of video or photographic traces. Instead, a sequence of views of the vivaria at night was presented on a monitor placed in one of the gallery’s windows, offering an insight into the installation within, and arousing the curiosity of passers by.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

Adaime Makac explains that the three-dimensional compositions placed in the vivaria are inspired by Sans titre (Structure qui mange) (1968) by the artist Giovanni Anselmo, who was associated with Italian Arte povera movement. In this work, granite monoliths combine with organic and perishable matter (such as lettuce) in a way that suggests that the material is being consumed, as the title suggests [in English: Untitled (Structure that Eats)]. Adaime Makac’s Le Banquet reverses this proposition, in offering structures for the crickets to eat; crickets that are, in a manner of speaking, actors in the installations in each of the six vivaria.

In society, insects are usually associated with the abject and with calamity, with few exceptions, butterflies for example. By and large however, insects are regarded as harmful, and therefore as undesirable. They destroy crops and infest houses. The extermination business is booming, barely managing to hide its play on our fears.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

The Bible is perhaps at the root of man’s troubled relationship with insects. Amongst the famous plagues of Egypt cited in Exodus, and sent by Jehovah, targeting the Pharaoh who was holding the Israelites captive, three of the ten forms of pestilence involved insects, namely locusts, mosquitoes and horse flies. Given the exponential rate at which insects reproduce, a few specimens may result in an invasion. Rest assured, in Le Banquet, any overflow is contained ; the living processes take place on the inside of four sheets of glass.

Children are particular sensitive to all forms of animal life, and do not seem repulsed by insects. Occasionally, they even return home with their little discoveries, much to the disconcertment of their parents. Amongst adults, such a sensitivity appears out of the question, stifled even. It is as though, later in life, insects are only of interest to scientists. Adaime Makac’s installation introduces these creatures into the domain of art.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

In pet shops, tarantulas, lizards and frogs are offered for sale….crickets also, though in the case of the latter, they are sold to feed others in the food chain. The space in which they are housed is usually rudimentary, with perhaps only a few empty egg boxes in an otherwise empty vivarium. In Le Banquet, Adaime Makac challenges this economy and celebrates the humble creature that is the cricket; she allows them to live, feast, copulate and die.

Insects in contemporary art

Artists have been putting insects ‘to work’ for several decades, introducing objects and materials into their environment, which the creatures ultimately transform.

I recently came across a work by the French artist Hubert Duprat, cited in a passage from a text in connection with the work of Adaime Makac.5 In a practice that encompasses a number of approaches, Duprat transforms the aquatic larvae of trichoptera or caddisflies into goldsmiths, equipping them with gold sequins and pearls, as well as precious and semi-precious stones, to create a protective nest that more usually would consist of twigs and grains of sand. The Canadian artist Aganetha Dyck places everyday objects in beehives, which the insects begin to coat in wax, creating cells.6 then removes the everyday items and uses them to create installations.7

However, in both these cases the artists appropriate the insects’ ‘productions’ and the creatures are ultimately absented from the work, leaving only their trace behind. In contrast, in Adaime Makac’s installation not only are they the principle actors, they are also the intrinsic content of the work, ‘what is to be seen’. The crickets live and die in the closed receptacle that is the installation. They are nourished by, and in turn alter, its form, leaving behind their waste and their skins.

Crickets in literature and music

Upon learning that Ivana Adaime Makac planned to work with crickets, a story by Charles Dickens, entitled The Cricket on the Hearth immediately came to mind: “[the cricket] has inspired numerous tales and stories. Once upon a time, it was considered to be a familiar, even a bringer of good fortune […].”8 Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) frequently mentions crickets and their song in his diary, analyzing their behavior in detail. He salutes their seasonal return and marvels at the sounds they make as autumn advances. He observes them bore into mushrooms and apples, almost completely disappearing into the object that they are consuming. As an adolescent, I read Jules Renard’s Histoires naturelles, published in 1896. Later, I discovered that five of the stories he recounts – including that of Le Grillon [The Cricket] – had been put to music by Maurice Ravel. The cricket seemed to him “a fantastic creature, somewhere between the human and the machine, a creature with which the composer was perhaps the first to identify.”9

Despite the considerable difference of scale that separates us from crickets, we cannot help but feel empathy for them; we identify with their fragility. In the artist’s enlargements of video and photographic images of the insects, our sense of scale alters dramatically: under the color-saturated lighting, the creatures’ vital functions become dramatized, and aestheticized.

Ivana Adaime Makac’s Le Banquet creates a form of dynamic suspense, charged with meaning, somewhere between the abject and the delicious. A pleasure to the eye, her ephemeral sculptures elevate our gaze and propose a form of precarious beauty, aimed at transformation. The insects live and die at the bottom of the vivaria, moving around and going about their business, climbing the monoliths, and freely traversing the art that constitutes their habitat.

  1. Renard, Jules. 2010, Histoires naturelles. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 91 p.
  2. I am thinking notably of Ivana Adaime Makac’s series of infra-red, silver-print photograpgs entitled Bestiaire (2004) that set insects against a backdrop of natural and artificial elements (flowers, stuff animals), and also of her video works Dormeur no. 1 (2005) and Limites No. 2 which, respectively, document the behavior of crickets and mice. The video installation Zophobas morios (2007) also comes to mind, featuring images of beetle larvae in movement.
  3. Toussaint, Évelyne. ″Les mondes éthologiques et esthétiques d’Ivana Adaime-Makac″. 2007, in ″ Flux-2: Parcours d’art contemporain en vallée du lot ″. Arles: Maison des arts Georges-Pompidou editions, p. 7.
  4. All citations of the artist’s comments are taken from an unpublished text (2008).
  5. Toussaint, Évelyne, art. cit.
  6. Fréchuret, Maurice, Roland Recht et Stephen Bann. 1998, Hubert Duprat. Antibes, Genève, Limoges: Musée Picasso editions, 132 p.
  7. See notably Madill, Shirley, Bruce Grenville, Joan Borsa, Sigrid Dahle et Gilles Hebert. 1995, Aganetha Dyck. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery Editions, 64 p.
  8. Ivinec, Yann. 2006, ″The Cricket on the Hearth/Le grillon du foyer″. Traduit par Francis Ledoux. Paris: Gallimard, pp. 11-12. Ivinec’s preface makes a number of references to allusions to small insects from the orthoptera family in literature and music.
  9. Uwe Kraemer, from the program notes that accompany the recording Histoires naturelles by Ravel, with Gérard Souzay and Dalton Baldwin, released by the Philips record label. [Author’s translation].
Denis Lessard
5. Els Vanden Meersch. Exiles of the interior. from April 28 to June 15, 2008

Exiles of the interior

par Sébastien Hudon
Els Vanden Meersch from April 28 to June 15, 2008

The fourth edition of the Manif d’art TOI/YOU: La Rencontre was held in the capital in May and June of 2008, offering an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the work of a number of renowned contemporary artists. Amongst them, was the work of Els Vanden Meersch, who had travelled from Belgium to undertake a residency at LA CHAMBRE BLANCHE. The installation that Vanden Meersch presented, entitled Intérieurs exclus, left no one indifferent.

A retrospective tour

In the high-ceiling gallery space, a glow is reflected on the wall facing us as we enter. To this presence is added the echo of our footsteps. To the right, a black structure evokes the form of containers that are used in maritime transport. Our attention is first drawn towards this form, this abyss-like block, resembling an improvised anti-nuclear bunker. A narrow doorway gives us access to the form: the most daring enter closing the door behind them.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

Inside, a number of fluorescent tubes assault our eyes, forcing us to readjust our vision from the dimly-lit space that went before. A cold and raw light is reflected within the white walls of the space, which are covered with gloss-finish photographic prints. The bright colors in the photographs draw us to them, eager to discover the subject matter that is depicted within: places and rooms denuded of all human presence, creating a mise en abîme of the senses and the situation in which we find ourselves.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

On first glance, the criteria governing the arrangement of images – in groups of three and four, attached directly to the wall – is not clear to us. These ephemeral compositions1 are arranged according to strict geometric patterns. The colours, spaces and points of view depicted (with their subjective framing at eye level) seem to echo one another, as the architecture that they portray all seems to be have been created by the same hand. The atmosphere is heavy, stifling our breathing. Where are we ? It is impossible to know; no indications are given as to the whereabouts of these places. As one image follows another, the sense of claustrophobia becomes overwhelming. These seem to be warehouses, decontamination rooms. Then, an image of an image of the tracks leading to the Auschwitz concentration camp gives us a clue as to the symbolic significance of the spaces that we have witnessed.

In our minds, all of the unknown places on view take on an uncertain presence. They are, in fact, abandoned bunkers, gas chambers and the cramped apartments constructed by totalitarian regimes in the course of the last century. There is a sad awakening: our faulty memory is not able to discern the specific whereabouts of any of the scenes portrayed. They all look the same; a similar atmosphere reigns. Even though we are seeing them for the first time, they seem familiar, as though the horror and uncomfortableness of those who have passed through the space before us is imbibed in the walls. The grease and soot marks of the many histories to which we no longer have access seem to linger in the space; a form of suffocating poetry emerges. No longer able to endure it, we leave.

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

crédit photo: Ivan Binet

Elsewhere, in the main space, a series of images is projected, following a steady rhythm. The images dissolve, one by one. The tightly and identically framed photographs display a series of brightly-colored, deserted rooms. A window – always the same window – opens out onto a landscape that reoccurs as far as the eye can see. Once again, we have no way of knowing where we are.

After a few minutes, doubt takes hold: what we see before us is not a hospital, not a hotel. Its sense escapes us, yet its sense is everywhere in the succession of images. Each room has the same silence, or almost, save for the effect of time on the blistering of the paint on the walls, the crumbling their surfaces, and the rusting of radiators. Today, these once-identical interiors have taken on the patina that only time and nature know how to inflict on man’s pride and his possessions. The lesson is an eloquent one and an ironic one: each room has become unique. Life has taken hold once more. However quiet and perfectly white the surfaces before us once were (walls, floors and ceilings) they have all become textured and, to the contemporary eye, beautiful. However unclear we are about what this succession of images depicts, it would never have crossed our minds that what we are witnessing is a site that is highly-charged with significance: a seaside resort designed according to modernist and functionalist principles under Nazi Germany. Built to be indestructible, the three-kilometer length of the Prora complex on Rügen island has resisted all attempts to demolish it.

As these links reveal, the places presented by Els Vanden Meersch in the exhibition are the vestiges of totalitarian ideologies that sought to destroy all sense of individuality. They did so by purging all decorative features in space, in favor of an implacable and moribund standardization of the spaces in which man lives and works. The coldness of the places portrayed by the artist invokes both the imperative that we remember, and constitutes a photographic document of the utopian formulas and eugenic visions of these decrepit regimes for whom instrumentalized reason took precedent over fundamental differences between human beings. Thus, a single, unique being is repeated, endlessly, in the same environment, reified by the staggering domination of the State and industry, and drawn towards the certain death of individual creativity. Here is humanity objectified, become an inert, mineral statue, difference washed away with quicklime, difference betrayed by a fascinating machine that seems to have penetrated all spheres of life, and the very habitat of life itself. And yet, time does its work… Man has naturally and completed deserted this concrete microcosm to find a place to live freely, in the suburbs.

  1. Throughout her residency, Els Vanden Meersch adjusted the content and the arrangement of the imagery on display.
Sébastien Hudon