Mak­ing art from money has its costs

Ottawa Citizen - - Arts - PAUL GESSELL

Que­bec artist Mathieu Beauséjour knows bet­ter than any­one how filthy money can be.

“ It’s cov­ered in other peo­ple’s mi­crobes,” Beauséjour says.

And those mi­crobes are most un­friendly. Beauséjour’s arms broke out in a rash from han­dling about $ 17 mil­lion worth of shred­ded Cana­dian cur­rency he picked up from the Bank of Canada and has just in­stalled, as an art­work, in a vault of a for­mer Toronto- Do­min­ion Bank on Sparks Street.

“ I wear gloves now,” the artist says, as he shows off his newly healed, tat­too- cov­ered limbs.

Beauséjour was chat­ting inside the old TD Bank, which has tem­po­rar­ily been turned into the strangest art gallery the na­tional cap­i­tal has ever seen. The shred­ded money is just one of the in­stal­la­tions com­pos­ing a multi- artist exhi- bi­tion called Mak­ing Real, which is the main vis­ual art event of the Na­tional Arts Cen­tre’s multi- dis­ci­plinary fes­ti­val, Que­bec Scene. The show opens tonight, run­ning only un­til May 5.

Ac­tu­ally, Beauséjour’s in­stal­la­tion, ap­pro­pri­ately called Filth, is one of the tamer, more con­ven­tional pieces in Mak­ing Real. The plan is for Beauséjour to cover the floor of the vault in shred­ded cur­rency and then shape it into waves. Other artists, work­ing in ev­ery­thing from the wash­rooms to the stor­age ar­eas to the ATM nooks, are de­cid­edly more high- tech, em­ploy­ing ev­ery­thing from the sounds of outer space to a mys­tery movie filmed right in the derelict bank.

Mak­ing Real and the Na­tional Gallery’s De- con- struc­tions are the two most eye- pop­ping Que­bec Scene shows I have seen so far. Mak­ing Real was cu­rated by Mon­trealer Marie Fraser and De- con- struc­tions by the Na­tional Gallery’s act­ing cu­ra­tor of con­tem­po­rary art, Josée Drouin- Brise­bois.

There are other Que­bec Scene ex­hi­bi­tions at al­most ev­ery pub­lic gallery in Ottawa and Gatineau. Some were re­viewed in this space ear­lier.

Jean- Pierre Gau­thier, cur­rently the talk of Mon­treal with his solo show at the Musée d’art con­tem­po­rain, has in­stal­la­tions at both the Na­tional Gallery and the for­mer bank. Gau­thier is best known for his ki­netic sculp­tures, whose er­ratic move­ments are in­flu­enced by the pres­ence of vis­i­tors.

At the Na­tional Gallery, Gau­thier of­fers Crashes ( Iden­ti­fied Fly­ing Ob­jects). A dozen plas­tic garbage pail lids rise to the ceil­ing and then fall to the floor at vary­ing speeds and in­ter­vals. Some crash onto the bed of Sty­ro­foam chips scat­tered on the gallery floor. Oth­ers land qui­etly and smoothly. ( Kids love this one. Take them for a visit af­ter a tour of the Ron Mueck hy­per- re­al­ist hu­man sculp­tures down the hall.)

Gau­thier shares a room at the Na­tional Gallery with Gatineau’s An­nie Thibault, who has plas­tered the wall with dozens of Petri dishes filled with grow­ing fungi.

In the next room, Tricia Mid­dle­ton has lit­er­ally carved a hole in the wall to of­fer view­ers a peek into an al­ter­nate mu­seum, if not an al­ter­nate uni­verse.

Gau­thier’s Sparks Street in­stal­la­tion was not com­pleted dur­ing my re­cent ad­vance peek. But, come tonight, count on hear­ing some mighty strange sounds from dark cor­ners of the bank base­ment, in­clud­ing a staff bath­room.

Nearby there will be a video by Pas­cal Grand­mai­son, who filmed some­thing of a mys­tery story right in the bank. In the video a man is seen try­ing to en­ter the bank. An iden­ti­cal man is al­ready in the bank. There’s an air of men­ace to it all. Watch it from be­gin­ning to end. Well, ac­tu­ally, there is no be­gin­ning and no end. This is art to give your brain a charley horse.

So, what are th­ese two ex­hi­bi­tions all about? Es­sen­tially, they are test­ing the lim­its of what art and an art gallery can be. They also demon­strate that art gal­leries serve as lab­o­ra­to­ries, es­pe­cially in our high- tech age.

Art is meant to be a re­flec­tion of our pre­oc­cu­pa­tions. And we are def­i­nitely ob­sessed and some­times be­fud­dled and an­gered with tech­nol­ogy, whether it be an ATM at a bank, a cell­phone in our hand or the latest lap­top soft­ware.

Way back, be­fore com­put­ers, art was pre­oc­cu­pied with beauty, tragedy and other emo­tions. Now, con­tem­po­rary art is fo­cused on tech­nol­ogy. It is art that makes us say “ wow.” But it is art that does not stir our pas­sions. It is art that touches our soul about as much as the Star Wars ro­bot R2- D2.

An­other Que­bec Scene of­fer­ing is at Ottawa City Hall. This an ex­hi­bi­tion by three Ou­taouais artists. Diane Lemire’s ir­reg­u­lar- shaped ce­ment plat­ters are spec­tac­u­lar. Paula Murray’s ethe­real porce­lain vases ap­pear to glow from an in­ner light. Jo­hanna Nou­si­ainen has con­trib­uted a se­ries of un­ap­peal­ing woollen co­coon- like ob­jects hang­ing from the ceil­ing. Un­til June 3.

The Ottawa Art Gallery’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Que­bec Scene is an ex­hi­bi­tion by three artists, An­gela Grauer­holz, Ray­monde April and Klaus Scherubel, en­ti­tled Reread­ing. Each artist has cre­ated an in­stal­la­tion based on the rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of an ex­ist­ing work of art or lit­er­a­ture. Grauer­holz, for ex­am­ple, has recre­ated the scenes, three­d­i­men­sion­ally, seen in fa­mous 1920s pho­to­graphs of the read­ing room of Soviet artist Alexandr Rod­chenko. Frankly, all three in­stal­la­tions are puz­zling, es­o­teric and self- in­dul­gent. Un­til June 3.

More promis­ing is an ex­hi­bi­tion open­ing tonight at Ga­lerie Mont­calm in the Hull sec­tor of Gatineau by two of the hottest young painters from the area.

Jean- François Provost does ab­stracts; his work gets bet­ter ev­ery year. His long- time friend, Marc Ner­bonne, paints ae­rial cityscapes that seem ready to melt into the ab­stract.

The pair­ing of th­ese two is in­ge­nious. Ex­pect much of th­ese two prodi­gies in com­ing years. Un­til June 3.

Other shows can be found at Gallery 101, SAW Gallery, Axe Néo- 7, Art- Im­age and the NAC foyer, among other venues.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Que­bec Scene: www. que­bec scene. ca.

ROD MACIVOR, THE OTTAWA CIT­I­ZEN

Jean- Pierre Gau­thier has in­stal­la­tions at both the Na­tional Gallery and the for­mer TD bank.

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