The Triennale québécoise 2011 Le travail qui nous attend / The Work Ahead of Us – 1


The Work Ahead of Us, indeed! I’ve heard some people mention that I haven’t been writing too too much about art recently, sorry. And now I’m about to make up for it. Since I have broached the multi-part review, I figure I can do it again, and again, and, well you get the picture. Last week I was able to go see The Québec Triennial 2011 and given that there are something like 50 different artists involved along with a 500 page catalogue, there should be a lot of work involved in reviewing it. If this works out, I figure it’ll take me at least five parts to wrest everything I think about the show out of my system. Apologies in advance if you like things short and sweet.

But since the show itself is a large sprawling show, I figure a large sprawling review is appropriate. I can only hope that my worst paragraphs aren’t as bad as the worst parts of the Triennial, but somehow I have this sinking suspicion that in fact they will be worse. More apologies in advance.

As far as I could tell, there was no real structure to the show. The first piece from it that I saw was Rafael Lozano-Hemmer‘s Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée.

I had gone to a friend’s house which just so happens to be about a block away from Place des Festivals and while I wasn’t able to make a special trip down there to go see it, once I was there, it seemed pretty darn foolish to ignore it.

So I played with the joysticks for about five minutes, looking up at the giant light sabres in the sky kind of trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. Somewhere I had heard that Mr. Lozano-Hemmer was using the very same spotlights that were used by the US government on the Mexican border, and that there was some kind of political statement being made by virtue of the fact that “the public” could in fact manipulate the search lights, in opposition to how they were normally controlled, which is by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Guards.

I’m not convinced that it works as such. The documentation was kind of sketchy, and having a political piece about the U.S. – Mexican border in downtown Montreal seems a little far-fetched. Almost like being a fan of the Canadiens in Mexico City.

However as a pretty spectacle temporarily juxtaposed against the Place Ville Marie searchlights on the Montreal skyline it worked very well. The chaotic nature of the 18 spotlights, all for the most part aimed vertically, versus the regularity and horizontal nature of the lights on Place Ville Marie make for a very nice couple.

One of the more interesting things about going to see it, was how self-referential it was. When someone would play with the joystick, they were pretty much always looking at the light that they controlled. If you weren’t controlling a joystick you were most likely taking a picture or a video of your friend who was controlling a joystick.

Viewing it from afar, it would crop up in your field of view, and compete for your attention depending on where you were in town, but very rarely would it be able to keep your (read “my”) attention for more than a couple of seconds.

Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée also works as a proxy for the entire Triennale québécoise 2011 in that it is self-referential, attracts attention briefly and like all the artwork that pops up on Place des Festivals disappears without leaving a trace.

I could also write about how Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée also was designed for people with short attention spans, wasn’t too too deep and the similarity to those searchlights that are rented by event planners for the opening of a new car dealership or a discotheque in order to attract more attention. But instead of doing that, I’ll leave it up to you to make those connections and any others that you can think of. Otherwise this review could end up as long as the catalogue.

And speaking of length of reviews, I got a stick up my ass about the current state of affairs. This “review” in La Presse is 1,441 words, or about the equivalent of about 29 words for each artist. This “review” in Canadian Art magazine is 2.007 words, or about 40 words per artist. This “review” in Le Devoir is 1,162 words, or about 23 words per artist. This “review” in View on Canadian Art is 1,063 words, or about 21 words per artist. This “review” in The Montreal Gazette is 764 words, or about 15 words per artist. And lastly, this “review” in Voir is 797 words, or about 16 words per artist. (In case you were interested, the press release is 2,125 words long, or the equivalent of about 42½ words per artist, and the list of artists is 111 words long.)

How the heck is anyone going to get any sort of understanding or deeper comprehension on an exhibit that professes to be the definitive statement on art in Quebec in 2011 if the people who are paid to explain it to the general population, don’t even give it more than lip service. And what’s probably even worse is that I imagine the fine folk at the museum who are charged with things like tracking reviews are all quite chuffed about the reviews the show has received.

For the record, this is at 926 words and I’ve only mentioned one piece of art, in passing. In for a penny, in for a pound.

As long as we are on this tangent, I might as well apologize for the lack of pictures and videos, I asked the museum if I could go and take videos and was politely rebuffed, and after the issues the last two times I went to take still pictures, I decided to take my doctor’s advice and keep my blood pressure down, so we’re stuck with whatever I can find on YouTube, Flickr and the lousy reproductions I take myself from the catalogue (cf. paragraph 29 of the Canadian Copyright Act).

So how can I get this review back on track? Well, let’s start with perception, for those of you who have been under a rock for the last little while (and to be honest, I don’t blame you) or those of you from out-of-town and who don’t obsess over the microscopic Quebecois art world happenings, this is the second Triennial (website for the first is here). There is also a Biennial (more properly known here in town as The Biennale) and then just down the river there’s the Manif d’art (aka The Manifestation Internationale D’Art de Quebec). Or in other words there is a large overview of art made in Quebec, funded by the government every year (the Manif and the Biennale alternate years) and sometimes (like this year) there are two.

[As an aside, if you’re interested in hearing and seeing what I thought of this past year’s Biennale watch these.]

Given that any organization that gets money from the government and is successful in bringing in tourists, shouts about it from not only the tallest rooftops, but every darn rooftop in town; one, two, etc) I can only presume that since I haven’t heard about how many tourist dollars these art exhibits are responsible for, that they aren’t responsible for any. Which translates into they are all only playing for the locals. Which when you come to think about it, could be one major reason why art from Quebec isn’t appreciated much beyond the borders.

It’s that “definitive statement on art in Quebec in 2011” that kind of sticks in my craw. Looking back at the press release, they use sentences like “arriving at a comprehensive sense of Québec artistic practice in these early years of the twenty-first century.” and “a reference work on contemporary art in Québec” and while it’s very easy to think that something so large is definitive and comprehensive; from my perspective there are whacks and whacks (or if you prefer scads and scads) of artists who have been left out and ignored.

And that’s one place where I have some difficulties with The Triennale québécoise 2011 Le travail qui nous attend / The Work Ahead of Us. Like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer‘s Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée which can also be seen as just a bunch of light beams moving spastically across the sky, kind of like an ephemeral game of pick up sticks, there is something to be said about the spaces between the sticks that allow you to pick up the sticks without dislodging the others. The Triennial can also be likened to a random collection of similar objects that need to be organized, but once you recognize that the spaces in between the objects is as important as the objects themselves then it becomes easier to glom on to and get a grip on the show.

Initially, I thought I would reference my notes, the catalogue and what I could find on the internet to write about a paragraph or so on each artist involved in The Triennale québécoise 2011 Le travail qui nous attend / The Work Ahead of Us, but now I’m not so sure. I’m still going to reference my notes, the catalogue and what I can find on the internet to talk about the show, I’m just not so certain that a) It’s going to be a paragraph for each artist, and b) I hope that tomorrow I can discuss more than one work.

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