FICTIONS & LEGENDS: Jérôme Havre Closes at the Textile Museum, Toronto

Jérôme Havre, Untitled (Hybrid Series), 2010, fabric, kapok. 75 cm tall. Photo: Paul Litherland. Image from Textile Museum

I had two different experiences of Jérôme Havre’s work.

1. VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE

Images taken of a past exhibit showed a presentation that was unique in the way it utilized almost the entire square footage it occupied within the gallery space. A pattern in black and white had been painted onto the wall, wrapping the room and melting onto a grayed floor. I didn’t know what the pattern represented but I knew I loved it. The repetition was calming and invigorating at the same time.

Standing on pedestals (or as I later realized hovering slightly above them suspended from the ceiling) were these beautiful beings that you could tell had been handcrafted with colourful textiles that added more pattern to delight the eye. They were fashioned with lumps and bumps but also with feet so I got the sense that some hybrid being had emerged from the artist’s imagination.

Nothing immediately came to mind to compare them to but the entire effect of the patterned wall, free floating sculptures and pedestals that felt more like architectural remnants made for maximum impact!

I was excited to see the show at the Textile Museum so that I could get a sense of it all – up close and personal.

2. PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE 

What I was looking forward to the most in seeing Jérôme’s work in the flesh was the experience of being enveloped by the install. I admire artists who know how to create an environment that makes me feel as though I am walking into a very different kind of space, one that catches me off guard – disarming me a little or provoking me a lot.

Heather Goodchild, installation view. Photo: Naomi Yasui. Image from the Textile Museum

Fictions and Legends, that also includes the meticulous and stunning work of Heather Goodchild, did not disappoint! Immediately upon entering the exhibit you know you have walked into a show that is going to be a very different experience than one would expect at the Textile Museum or any other gallery for that matter.

The first room I walked into was wrapped with fabric on which Heather had painted symbols that felt religious and words that felt sacred. Thick curtains closed off secret spaces. Once inside those spaces I was met with rug hookings that seemed antique in their technique but the scenes depicted didn’t match the pastoral compositions you would expect. They felt foreboding – almost apocalyptic. The scene on the last rug before the entrance to Jérôme’s space made me particularly uncomfortable but I will come back to that.

Heather Goodchild, Get Behind Me. Image from the Textile Museum

I then stepped into the space that Jérôme had constructed. This room was devoid of the curtains that acted as barriers in Heather’s install. In fact, just like the images I saw online, everything was installed without obstructions.

I had yet to see all of Heather’s work so I left Jérôme’s area to enter into the final scenes she had created. This time, instead of textiles on the walls, porcelain figurines, bigger than dolls but smaller than life-size, were configured into scenes that read as vaguely Biblical, some sort of moral tale was being told even if I couldn’t call up an immediate reference as to who and what. The scenes, much like the rug hooking on the walls, were haunting. Some of the female figurines seemed to be committing dirty deeds done dirt cheap. As I overheard one person say Heather’s work contained “creatures we don’t understand and stories we don’t want to tell.”

Heather Goodchild, installation view. Photo: Naomi YasuiImage from the Textile Museum

In all of the scenes Heather constructed there was an implied demarcation where the viewer was to stand, like an impotent witness.

Heather’s work was cloistered, staged and secretive; precious and breakable therefore untouchable. Her figures were stark white and clearly female with contrived faces with unbroken expressions; poses that were rigid and fixed.

When juxtaposed with Jérôme’s work I couldn’t help but feel that the two installs where pushing off each other with an intense force – in binary opposition.

For everything Heather’s work was Jérôme’s was not – out in the open and close enough to touch; made of fabric that was flexible enough to withstand impact. The hybrid beings referenced ‘blackness’ and their bricolage bodies were stitched together from fragments of nylon and cotton leftovers making them uneven and soft, although sturdy. They each hung suspended, turning slowly to animate the space. In Heather’s install there was silence. In  Jérôme’s the sound of wild birds.

I didn’t recall, from my reading of the exhibit prior to entering, that it was meant to be an exhibit speaking on the subject of race but in this space, the realities of race seemed inescapable.


I returned many times trying to reach back to that first moment when I saw Jérôme’s work and had read it so differently.

My experience provoked me and I needed to get to the bottom of it. When I attended a LUFF Art + Dialogue’s Open Sesame Event discussing the Fictions & Legends show I entered into a room full of knowledgeable art professionals but it was a predominately white space. Jérôme was in attendance. Would he would let the cat out of the bag that the artist was present? Even if he didn’t it, the obvious elephant in the room was the fact that he was the one black male in a group of mostly white bodies. How would this fact impact the discussion?

Just prior to seeing Jérôme’s work I had attended the Vodou Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilzation. In an effort to works towards better understanding of their spiritual practice, hopefully resulting in new found respect, members of the Haitian Vodou community in Montreal were involved in the organization of the show. As I walked through the exhibit though I wondered if people would be able to see (feel) past their preconceived notions. We grow up on a steady diet of stereotypes so much so that the unconscious must store those unsettling thoughts, maybe even keeping them under wraps, but they aren’t so buried that they can’t emerge in an unfortunate moment.

And just before the Vodou exhibit  I had visited the National Gallery in Ottawa where part of Carrie Mae Weem’s From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried was installed on a wall. On the four red tinted ethnographic daguerreotypes of black men and black women are the words:

You become a scientific profile,

a negroid type,

an anthropological debate,

a photographic subject.

In reviewing Jérôme’s work to sit down and write out my thoughts for this post I look again at one of the first images I saw of his work. I see something I hadn’t noticed before. A framed image hanging on the wall that reads:

When will we be just beautiful?

The Fact the lies in Fictions and Legends

In Fictions and Legends, the scene in the rug hooking that left me so unsettled was of a white female body lying on the ground with her back to the viewer. Overshadowing her body like a storm cloud is a black animal-like being, pressing itself into her skin.

In the Exhibition Overview I read:

“Both artists tease out our deepest collective cultural experiences, practices and beliefs by proposing evocative truths in the form of fictions and legends.”

For as far as humanity has come regarding race, in a mind’s deep recesses not consciously inhabited, what lies in opposition to whiteness is still blackness.

Fictions and Legends closes this weekend. Don’t miss a chance to experience this engaging exhibit without comparision!

View more of Jérôme Havre’s work here.

For more of Heather’s work visit www.heathergoodchild.com.

All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.

SCOTIABANK NUIT BLANCHE 2013: Let French Curator Ami Barak UpCycle Your Experience

Man smiling while speaking at a podium Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Re-inventing the wheel – what Duchamp’s Ready-mades, Ai Weiwei and Toronto’s cyclists have in common.

Man smiling while standing at a podium “In 2013, we will celebrate the centenary of the Armory Show, the International Exhibition of Modern Art that was organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories, New York and is considered as a breaking point, crucial in the history of modernity. Among the scandalously radical works of art, pride of place goes to Marcel Duchamp’s cubist/futurist style Nude Descending a Staircase. The same year, Duchamp installed a Bicycle Wheel on a chair in his studio and this is considered as well as the starting point of the intrusion of “Ready-mades” (found objects which Duchamp chose and presented as art) in the art world. The idea was to question the very notion of Art and the artistic attitude towards objects. The objects found on the street, chosen by the artist, will take an aura of art object within the frame of the art institution. We now live in a century where objects exist in the museums and the exhibition spaces. If we take the objects back to the street in the context of an event like Nuit Blanche, while allowing the artists to treat and handle them as referenced works of art, we hope to close the loop and reconcile the public with the status of the ubiquity of the object. ~ Ami Barak, Visiting Curator for Nuit Blanche 2013 on “Off to a Flying Start”

While listening to French curator Ami Barak speak at this week’s Power Plant lecture regarding his curatorial choices for Nuit Blanche I couldn’t help but think of one of this city’s advocates for cyclists and how she’s probably excited for all the focus placed on bikes this year.

Taking it to the streets.

Woman with long hair sitting on bike that has a basket in front of brick wallYvonne Bambrick is a woman about town – on her bike. An Urban Cycling Consultant she has also worked in the capacity of Community Animator for the Centre for Social Innovation, the first coordinator for the Kensington Market BIA and is the current Coordinator of the Forest Hill Village BIA. She knows our community and our city’s streets well and can often be found quoted in the press about the problems Toronto faces as it expands without a clear course of action for the people in this city who choose bikes over cars.

“In addition to the significant lack of on-street bike infrastructure, one of the biggest issues for those riding bikes to get around the city is the condition of the roadways. Years-old utility cuts and potholes are a major hazard on some of the most heavily used routes. This terrible road surface is often found in the already difficult to navigate space between the doorzone and streetcar tracks on most of the East-West routes – this creates an even more dangerous scenario for even the most experienced riders.

Above image by Yvonne Bambrick for The Urban Country Magazine.

Toronto’s Arts Festivals seem to have a knack for intuitively selecting themes that are timely – Luminato’s choice for its 2011 production of 1001 Nights and that year’s focus on Arab performers and writers helped expand the dialogue around the Arab Spring immediately after it happened. Ami’s choice for installing Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles at City Hall corresponds well with Ai Weiwei’s current exhibit at the AGO that speaks to human rights abuses by the Chinese government but perhaps unanticipated, although certainly important, is how Forever Bicycles speaks to Toronto’s recent issues and the rights of its citizens to have their concerns regarding cycling acknowledged by our government.

Speaking about Forever Bicycles Yvonne says “It’s such a thrill that it is on the doorstep of City Hall. I can’t think of a better place for it to be! Hopefully it sends a message and is not just seen as a structure made of bikes – that it resonates with people at city hall as relating to current issues.”

photograph framed in a bike wheel on wall with window to the street on the right Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Deconstructing the object by displacement.

Also an artist, Yvonne’s own bike inspired and politically motivated work was on display recently at the Hashtag Gallery on Dundas Street West. Yvonne snaps the city at street level then uses deconstructed bike wheels as frames – an interesting way to open up dialogue around the issues.

A photograph of graffiti with words Fancy Eh and framed in a bike wheel  Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Duchamp’s removal of an object from its familiar state and his presentation of it as an objet d’art was one of the actions of modernity that domino affected us into a century of change. The referential impact still reads as contemporary into the 21st Century as exemplified in works like Yvonne’s as well as those selected by Ami for Saturday’s big event. Thanks to Ami the dislocation of both objects of motion and objects of rest can be seen this year at Nuit Blanche – Toronto artist Bruno Brilo’s Familia, Garden Tower in Toronto by Tadashi Kawamata, Tortoise by Michel de Broin, Melik Ohanian’s El Agua de Niebla and Pascale Marthine Tayou’s stunning presentation efficiently titled Plastic Bags.

large sculpture made of many bicycles interconnected together with the two towers of Toronto City Hall in the backgroundAbove image by Yvonne Bambrick

The ubiquity of bikes.

For Ami, this idea of the “répétition du même objet” and how objects repeated over and over change the meaning is important. For Yvonne “speaking to this idea of repetition, I think that at this stage in Toronto it is too hard to ignore that so many people are choosing bicycles and that they are everywhere! You can’t ignore that much of the voting population and that how the city functions with regards to transportation includes bicycles.”

Woman and man each on their bikes with the Toronto City Hall in the backgroundAbove image by Yvonne Bambrick for Dandyhorse Magazine.

Come Full Cycle.

Ami’s choice of placing Ai Weiwei’s 3,000+ interconnected bicycles in front of City Hall may just become, for Toronto cyclists, a symbolicist act for contemporary Toronto.

For more information on how you can be a part of the movement to make Toronto a more bike-friendly city Yvonne recommends Cycle Toronto. “They are a city-wide cycling advocacy organization who are working year-round on improving conditions for people riding bikes in the city.”

More resources can be found on Yvonne’s website or follow her on Twitter @yvonnebambrick.

Image of a woman riding bike in city street in front of building with post-modern architecture. Family dressed up warm for fall weather in wet street standing with their bicycles

Young couple riding bikes during fall on city street Above 3 images by Yvonne Bambrick for Dandyhorse Magazine.

For more information on Ami’s curatorial statement for “Off to a Flying Start” check out the Consulate General of France’s initiative Paris-Toronto and Nuit Blanche.

FYI – If you missed Ami’s talk this past Monday you can hear him again Saturday afternoon at 2 pm at The Power Plant along with the other Nuit Blanche curators – Patrick Macaulay, Ivan Jurakic and Crystal Mowry.

Click here for more information on this event.

Every which way, by Kim Adams. Photo by Steven Martin, courtesy Museum London. (Image via Dandyhorse Magazine.)
Every which way, by Kim Adams. Courtesy of Diaz Contemporary. (Image via Dandyhorse Magazine.)