Lifting directly from Wikipedia: William Holman Hunt was an English painter, and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Oooopsie! Sorry about that, I was looking for a translation of Tableaux de chasse, the name of the exhibition by Diane Dubeau at the Maison de la Culture Frontenac, and “Paintings of Hunt” was one of the possibilities. Actually “hunting paintings,” works better but still isn’t perfect, and since Ms. Dubeau has a lot more than just paintings in her exhibit, I imagine that the title is far from perfect in French. So an imperfect translation is what I’ll go with. And imperfection seems to be the overarching theme to the show. There are good pieces (Famille de Lapins)
there are bad pieces (Alambic de Creation)
and there are pieces that made me scratch my head (a bunch of others). Then if you combine that with the bureaucratic boondoggle I had to traverse in order to get some pictures, imperfection and head scratching are the only things that I remember from the exhibit.
But let’s back up a little bit – I have no idea who is the person responsible for getting exhibits into the Maison de la Culture Frontenac (there are certain advantages, or disadvantages, about a faceless bureaucracy, I guess) but for the most part they do a very good job of putting on exhibits, better than most of the other Maison de la Cultures, in fact. The only complaint I would make is that they tend to rely too heavily on quote, dramatic lighting, unquote, which can get a tad tedious after a while. But hey! Whatever turns your crank. Anyhows I was down there last week (see the review of the Arlette Vermeiren Zucoli exhibit there that I published last week) kind just looking around, minding my own business when this teenager pops in, looks at one wall, then at me and then leaves. I don’t pay it no mind, and continue trying to wrap my head around Ms. Dubeau’s works – figuring for the most part that despite whatever good is attempted by bringing art to the people, by placing art in their neighborhoods, you still can’t get over the fact that most people still only want to spend about 15 seconds in front of a piece of art (fact!).
To be honest, I made that last statistic up. Even I’m not certain if I should believe my parenthetical statements. So you should be extremely careful when reading them as well. However, as I was just about done, the very same teenager comes back into the room and tells me I can’t take pictures. Now, I had no desire to get into an argument, and to be honest I was just taking snaps more for note-taking purposes than for actual “I’m-going-to-print-these-pictures-up-and-makes-scads-of-money-off-of-Ms.-Dubeau’s-work” purposes. But it was enlightening to see that said teenager wasn’t a disinterested teenager, and in fact was a teenager with a summer job working at an art gallery.
But back to Ms. Dubeau’s exhibit… it’s obvious from the title that she’s aiming for a quote, Big, unquote statement. Off the top of my head, maybe something having to do with how we eat, what we eat, societal norms while eating, and that’s even before reading the press release or giving PETA’s agenda half-a-thought. I’m certain that if you furrowed your brow for 30 seconds you could come up with half-a-dozen more.
Let’s start with the first pieces you see upon poking your nose down in the basement of the Maison de la Culture Frontenac. I kind of think of them as a triptych, but I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that they are three separate paintings hung together because someone at the Maison de la Culture thought it would be Dramatic! (with a capital “D” and an exclamation point!). Called Cible I, Cible II and Cible III, L’Ours, Le Raton [sic] and La Femme au Bois respectively. Or if you prefer, Target 1, 2 and 3. The Bear, The Raccoon (actually there is no such animal in the French language as a “raton,” but a raccoon is called a “Raton laveur,” which should be close enough, but we could potentially get way off the rails if I mention that “raton” is a racist term for a North African, so I won’t. OK?) and the Woman in the Wood in my bestest bloke translation.
As you might expect they are acrylic paintings of a bear, raccoon and a woman – although contrary to most western traditions they go right-to-left (like Arabic), not left-to-right. The bear has a red and black plaid swatch over where you would imagine its heart to be. The raccoon is wearing a Coonskin hat, and the woman a ridiculous pair of 15-point antlers. Ridiculous because 15-point antlers are “rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock.” They are large paintings, although only the raccoon is larger than life. Done on some sort of rough planking. Given the titles and the collage-like nature I imagine one is supposed to look for the quote, deeper meaning, unquote, but beyond the cartoon nature of the images, I got nothing. Am I supposed to think that because the bear has a red and black swatch of plaid on its chest and the raccoon is wearing a hat that there is some sort of inherent similarity between animals and human beings? Because the woman has antlers that she is as much of a trophy as a deer is? I think not. They are hung in a staggered fashion, transversely to the walls, parallel to the entry, which as you might expect is in one corner or the room, and very brightly lit, making them initially appear like some sort of vedette on a stage. Say, Bianca Gervais in Nitro.
Moving counter-clockwise through the room, there is an installation of some sort. Called Ossuaire (again mistitled, as an ossuary is for human bones, not those of animals) it is made of “Bones, 462 T-pins, and Vinyl Letters.” The letters spell out les restes des animaux que j’ai manges, depuis janvier 2010. Or for the blokes in the house, the remains of the animals I ate since January 2010. Now first off, if she’s counting the pins, why not count the bones? For the curious in the house, there are 213 by my count. And while I’m not certain that I would call the Maison de la Culture Frontenac a valley, but those dry bones were like a clarion call to me. I was extremely careful as to what I said around them, lest they all rise up and become a bunch of Zionists.
Second, if it’s all the animals she’s eaten since the beginning of 2010, then where are the recent additions? The exhibit has been up since June 23rd, I saw it in July and it stays up until the end of August, but it doesn’t appear that there are any new additions, which either means that Ms. Dubeau has stopped eating meat with bones for the duration of the exhibit, or something else. (And speaking of vegetarianism, I don’t know if I dreamed it, or if I saw it, but I distinctly have a very vivid memory of seeing Ms. Dubeau saying that she was a vegetarian, but I can’t find it for the life of me, hence why I put this in parenthesis. In what passes for a lobby at the Maison de la Culture there is a video interview playing, and a little voice inside my head tells me I saw it there. But on the internet the video makes no mention of Ms. Dubeau’s eating habits.)
And speaking of the video, remind me never ever to hire whomever made it. A) The sound recording is horrible. B) for such a short film, the amount of “umms,” “ahhs” and other non-words that were left in is atrocious. Although I didn’t time it, I would guess of the 84 seconds, 15 seconds – or almost 20% – is nonsense noises of Ms. Dubeau thinking. But the thing that almost made me fall off my chair in amazement was that the credits are 46 seconds long on a video that is 84 seconds long. Or 55% of the length. I can’t understand how something so short, needs to have credits that are so long. Actually I can, and it involves ego, or at least the only reason I can imagine needing credits that last so long is so that everyone (all 43 viewers as of this writing) can read who was responsible for making the video, and if that’s my tax dollars hard at work (thee different levels of government funded it) I sure as shooting would prefer that the cash go to the artist than to the folk who made the video, but I digress.
Back to the art; the next thing on the wall is called Camouflage Armé. Initially I was nonplussed by this painting. It’s kinid of boring, what with all the camouflage, and it’s kind of difficult to see the paper-maché skull in it – but then upon a closer examination, I noticed the knitted bullets framing the piece and completely and utterly fell in love with it. I’m a sucker for fiber art…
Next on the wall (actually more like in the corner) is the Famille des Lapins, or for those of you challenged by the second language, The Rabbit Family. On a shelf, a toy-stuffed bunny pinned to the shelf, a framed picture of a bloody rabbit skull, a jar of rabbit skulls in a liquid filled jar along, blue rubber gloves pinned to the shelf as well and a pair of tongs at a 45 degree angle leaned against the jar of skulls. Initially my reaction to this piece was the exact opposite of my reaction to Camouflage Armé. I was seduced by the ‘cool factor’ of the skulls in a jar – but upon further reflection it strikes me that this is a rather shallow piece. There’s no note that was inside any of the rabbits, and I’d be hard-pressed to see it as representing lust. Forcing an interpretation to go in only one direction (due to the graphic nature of the picture and the juxtaposition of the skulls in a jar). While there is good art that leaves nothing open to interpretation and basically sledgehammers you with its ideas and opinions (see: Picasso’s Guernica, Borduas’ Étoile noire or Rubens’ Saint George Battles the Dragon) for the most part I prefer art that is open to a variety of interpretations. It kind of gives you something to talk about, think and ponder, instead of being just what it is. And besides I like Hasenpfeffer and Coniglio All’ Ischitana.
Continuing on our tour around the room, Les Chasseurs (The Hunters) is very similar to Camouflage Armé in that it is a painting with most of the canvas covered by a camouflage pattern. In this case there are some fake rifle barrels on the frame and some cartoon-like images of 14 stereotypical hunters at the bottom, again a fairly straightforward painting. Not quite as forceful and in-your-face as Famille des Lapins, I think it could be made better by making the hunters larger and reducing the camouflage to background status. I also find it interesting that Ms. Dubeau decided to use quote, dramatic lighting, unquote for her camouflage paintings. The idea of shining a bright spotlight onto something that is designed to meld into the background is an interesting concept. I’m not certain if it was done intentionally as an awful lot of the exhibitions I’ve seen at the Maison de la Culture Frontenac used quote, dramatic lighting, unquote.
Ms. Dubeau appears to be intrigued by the number three. Or potentially thinks that triptychs are cool, because a bunch of her work is presented in threes. Case in point: Au Pays des Cauchemars, Au Cœur des Cauchemars and Le Trophée des Cauchemars. Three tiny assemblages (not quite paintings, not quite sculpture, not quite collage, not quite…) all made with acrylic paint, a toy moose, pins (although they look more like staples) and something she calls “perles synthétiques” but I would call plastic beads. I couldn’t quite figure out if they went right-to-left or left-to-right as none of them looked all that much like a trophy or a country. I wasn’t as confused by the heart one, but mainly because it was in the middle, not due to any of the iconography.
Her fascination with threes continues with La Chute I, II and III. The Rabbit, The Man and The Bird respectively. Either riffing off of Roberto Longo or Kate Puxley (or perhaps both, but then again maybe neither) This is how I think she should have done Les Chasseurs. Or more pointedly, a larger and more central image on a patterned background. Personally I’m not certain how I would interpret a falling rabbit, a falling bird sometimes can be considered a Stymphalian bird (from the sixth labor of Hercules) but that would be a humongous stretch in this case. And there is tons of fodder on and about falling men, if you need help click here. But I’m not quite sure what to make of the bones or the red and black checked backgrounds for the animals (aren’t picnic tablecloths typically red and white?) She also worked on the frames – but her pictures are too small for me to make out what she did to them, and as I previously mentioned I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures.
Next on the wall is Alambic de Creation. But as the cops say, “Nothing to see here, keep moving…”
Which brings us to Les Griffes I, II and III. Subtitled Fausses, Dégriffes, and Piercing (or in the words of squareheads, “fake, declawed and piercing.” I didn’t translate the word “griffes” because it can either mean fingernails, claws or a bunch of other things (including, interestingly, a cut of meat at the front of the shoulder) and my best guess would be that Ms. Dubeau is playing off of that double meaning in this work. Basically three plaster casts of a pair of hands, one would presume Ms. Dubeau’s hands, one pair with a fake set of very red nails, one pair broken off at the intermediate phalanges and the third pair which has those plastic beads (aka “perles synthétiques”) glued to them. What they have to do with hunting, I’m not entirely certain, but the bright red fake nails and plastic beads contrast quite well on the white plaster.
Tableaux de chasse, William Holman Hunt, hunting paintings whatever you want to call them ,the stuff exhibited by Diane Dubeau ain’t half bad. As a polemic about watching what you eat and how you eat it, it fails. PETA does this sort of stuff all the time – and while they aren’t a local Montreal artist – their tactics are much more effective. Then, if you listen to hunters who hunt to eat (aka folk like Ted Nugent) they are thousands of time more aware of environmental concerns, societal worries, social norms and just about anything else you can think of. As a means to quote, enlighten, unquote the general public about hunting and/or the source of their food Tableaux de chasse also fails, but not because of the content, but because of the container. I would guess that on a good day the Maison de la Culture Frontenac gets maybe 50 people coming in to see an exhibit. The show is up for 45 days, which means that if every day is a good day 2,250 people see the exhibit. Last I heard there were more than 3 million people living in Montreal, 2,250 isn’t even enough to be called a “drop in the bucket” if you’re talking about the general public. While Ted Nugent Spirit of the Wild might not be seen by as many people as the Super Bowl, but I’m fairly certain that more than 2,250 people watch it.
If I start to talk about the quality of Ms, Dubeau’s work there are obviously some pieces that are executed better (Famille des Lapins) than others (Alambic de Creation) and while the majority of the work in the show is painting the work that is most effective is surprisingly, not the paintings. Whether it is the frames with knitted bullets, the plaster cast hands, or the assemblages, they are all executed very well, in a witty fashion that is quite engaging. Don’t get me wrong, there are non-paintings that aren’t executed well (Alambic de Creation) and there are paintings and there are paintings that are very well executed (Chute I) but if you’re going to get into generalizations, better to stick with the non-paintings. And that to me seems to be the biggest problem with the exhibit, it wants to have a focus, but doesn’t. You’re initially lulled into thinking it’s about hunting or food or something and then out of the blue you get some hands clawing at you. You’re initially lulled into thinking it’s an exhibit of paintings and then out of the blue there are a bunch of bones. But Ms. Dubeau definitely has some mulie in her, and I would imagine that her next show will be closer to the aforementioned 15-point antlers.
Diane Dubeau, Tableaux de chasse is at the Maison de la Culture Frontenac, 2550, rue Ontario Est until August 27, 2011. The Maison de la Culture Frontenac is open Tuesday to Thursday from 13h to 19h, and on Friday and Saturday from 13h to 17h.