Tag Archives: The Québec Triennial

The Triennale québécoise 2011 Le travail qui nous attend / The Work Ahead of Us – 3


[Part One, Part Two]

If you’ve been reading the previous parts, you probably think that I’m not a big fan of The Triennale québécoise 2011. How ’bout I start moving the pendulum in the other direction and talk about some kick-ass art? Stuff that is worth the price of admission ($12 last time I checked, but did you realize that the admission to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal has gone up 50% in the past four years? Way more than inflation, it used to be one of the bargains in the city, now I think twice about what they are showing before giving them money, but I digress). Two words: Charles Stankievech.

Back in 2007 I saw something of his called Timbral and was pretty gosh darn impressed. Something about felt and banging away on a piano always makes me go weak in the knees.

Then I heard something about him going to the Yukon and kind of thought to myself (quietly) that making a trip up there to see his work was perhaps, a little bit too far to go – but you never know. I know some people up north, and stranger things have happened. But basically didn’t give him much thought, following the standard issue cliche, out of sight, out of mind.

But lets backtrack for an instant. If, upon entering the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, after buying your ticket, you take the stairs (and yes, I will talk about Dean Baldwin’s boat, later), turn to your right (and yes, I will talk about Thérèse Mastroiacovo‘s work, later too) and then right again, Charles Stankievech’s piece is going to be something like the fifth one you see. If you take that route it’s the first one that gets its own room. (There are eight basic routes you can take through the Triennal.) You can’t miss it.

As you walk in there is a recessed shelf, with an open copy of The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel glassed in with a purple/pink/rose colored light, open the door, turn the corner and there you are. Smack dab in front of a wall-sized video of an exploded smoke grenade in, what I presume is, the Yukon.

When I saw it, I lucked out in my timing (the whole piece is maybe 5 minutes long, if it’s lucky) in that as I walked in, the smoke grenade had just been detonated and the purple cloud that spewed from it was still a long way off in the distance.

As I sat there, the smoke gradually was blown towards the camera, until it covered the entire screen, and then dispersed. Simple enough, right? Well, maybe, but not so fast.

First there is the score by Tim Hecker, a very low rumbling, kind of like what you would imagine something like a convoy of really big trucks would make if you put your ear to the wall of a tunnel they were in, combined with something that sounds like a methadone induced bird call along with some sort of vaguely ethereal and shimmery orchestral effect. Probably better if you were to go and listen to it yourself.

The score is so effective, that I would almost go so far as to say that it should be called a piece by Mr. Hecker with video done by Mr. Stankievech. Almost.

Second, after doing some cursory research into the book, it turns out that it’s all about the last man on earth, who just so happens to be at the North Pole, and that a purple cloud has been the reason that everyone died.

Third, according to the Marie Fraser, it’s a “performance… of Jules Olitski‘s painting ‘Instant Loveland.'”

Instant Loveland by Jules Olitski, courtesy Tate Britain. © Jules Olitski/VAGA, New York and DACS, London 2002
Instant Loveland by Jules Olitski, courtesy Tate Britain. © Jules Olitski/VAGA, New York and DACS, London 2002

Fourth and finally, there’s Kirby. A videogame character that is a purple/pink amorphous blob that inhales his enemies.

I’m not quite certain what to make of all these antecedents. But it gives me pause. I’m not as convinced that Kirby and Olitski are as significant as Shiel, but that might come from a lack of first hand knowledge of either one, and somehow I wish Mr. Stankievech and Mr. Hecker could have somehow incorporated Charles Wright into the mix.

Despite what I want, the piece is called Loveland. It’s one of the more compelling piece in the Triennal. Part of the reason it is so compelling is due to the the low rumble of the soundtrack which gives a sense of foreboding. This sense of foreboding is reinforced by the movement of the purple cloud towards the camera. And then toss in the rather bleak Yukon landscape, and you can’t help but think that something, most likely bad, is going to happen. It is that sensation that that keeps you riveted. It was the combination of effects that made me feel like I was someplace else, in some hazy dream/nightmare-in-waiting.

I’m certain that I could go on at length about some sort of doomsday/last person on earth scenario along with amorphous purple forms that swallow everything, but that would require reading the book and playing the game, both of which while I’m certain would be entertaining aren’t exactly high on my list of things to do. So I won’t. I’ll leave that for some future PhD. student, I’d much rather watch Loveland.

Basically, art makes you think, good art makes you think hard, and very good art makes you think long and hard. I’ve spent most of the past four days thinking hard about Mr. Stankievech’s Loveland

And then finally, so that the research wasn’t all for naught, here are some other songs called Loveland that I was able to find on YouTube.


Wild T & The Spirit


R. Kelly


Lonnie Liston Smith


The Triennale québécoise 2011 Le travail qui nous attend / The Work Ahead of Us – 2


[Part One is here]

If you want to see the flip side to Lynne Marsh‘s Philharmonie Project (Bruckner: Symphonie No. 5 Movements 1 & 4) it’s relatively simple

Click on “play.” To back up slightly for those of you who might not know what I am talking about. As part of the The Québec Triennial the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal decided to spread its wings and exhibit art outside of the museum. One of the pieces chosen for the extra-muro treatment is Lynne Marsh‘s Philharmonie Project (Bruckner: Symphonie No. 5 Movements 1 & 4). It is a four channel video projected on one screen in a small dark room off of the Espace Culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme at Place des arts that has three sets of bleachers installed campfire style around the screen.

As is written in the press release Ms. Marsh “turned her camera [sic] on the crews shooting a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as it plays a piece by Anton Bruckner.” That piece is his fifth symphony conducted by Bernard Haitink on March 12, 2011. If you have an extra €9.90, you can watch the entire concert here. (It’s the only performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 that has been filmed by the Berliner Philharmoniker prior to the Triennial).

Or more explicitly, there are four cameras trained on a bunch of different people in the broadcast booth, each of whom has a different responsibility during the broadcast. (And what is it with red and blue checks in the control room? The two main characters wear them; one on his shirt, the other on his scarf.)

Similar to Harun Farocki‘s Deep Play and NASCAR‘s Race View. There are also some antecedents from the film Woodstock and the picture-in-picture feature of contemporary television sets.

You get the idea.

I’m not certain why Ms. Marsh chose to only use the first and the fourth movements. I can only guess that it was either due to technical glitches while recording the second and third movements. Or perhaps a rights issue, and the Berliner Philharmoniker preferred not give her a complete recording. I don’t know enough about German Copyright law to venture an idea based on that, so I’ll stick to “something screwed up with the cameras, and there was this deadline, and, and, and…” But to remind you, I have been wrong in the past, and I will be wrong again in the future, so there is no guarantee that I am right, now.

When I went to see it, there was this homeless guy hanging out on the bleachers watching it. I guess I kind of like the idea that Ms. Marsh makes art that is for everyone. But at the same time, it was cold outside, the room was dark and I’m not certain if we woke him up or not. So I’m not 100% certain if he was there because he enjoyed it and was interested in seeing it, or if he was there for other reasons. Anyhows, he was the only one there besides us, and for that I’d have to blame the museum and Place des arts. A small dark room off of the Espace Culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme (aka the hallway in between Salle Wilfred Pelletier and Theatre Maisonneuve) is not exactly screaming out “look at me!” to all the passers by. And with the amount of flashing, flashy and bright videos all over the place in Place des arts, it’s quite easy to not even notice the room, let alone get the nerve up to hangout with the homeless while watching the technical side to parts of a symphony by Bruckner.

Given that Ms. Marsh’s Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) Dry Run (see below) was done in close collaboration with Johanna Meyer-Grohbrügge and Sam Chermayeff of June14 I’m very surprised that the seating and its placement are so common and utilitarian.

While I can understand in theory why the museum tried to spread its wings for the Triennial, in practice placing anything that is even potentially art-like in Espace Culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme is going to end up as a train wreck. The recent renovations have ruined Pierre Granche’s sculpture Comme si le temps… de la rue and as evidenced by the crowds lack of people watching Lynne Marsh‘s Philharmonie Project (Bruckner: Symphonie No. 5 Movements 1 & 4) I can only shake my head.

Unlike Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Architecture relationnelle 18. Intersection articulée Ms. Marsh’s piece was installed so as to be crowd unfriendly. As you enter into the dark room with the homeless man, you are first confronted by the backs of the bleachers that are at least five feet high, effectively creating a third barrier between you and the piece (the first being entering into a dark room in public, the second being entering into a room with someone who is homeless already there). Then as with most “Art” video installations, this is on an endless loop, which to me means that whomever is responsible for exhibiting the video has completely and thoroughly abdicated all responsibility towards making the artwork understandable. [Ed Note: To their credit, there is a 9:12 second gap at the end in order to make the entire loop 60 minutes. But there is no signage anywhere explaining when things start, and when I was there it started at 10 after the hour – I guess someone hit play a little late that morning]

OK, in some cases there actually are videos on a loop that do not have a beginning, a middle and an end, but as Ms. Marsh’s piece is based completely on a piece of music that does have a beginning, a middle and an end, to force the viewer to enter during the middle of the performance watch the end and then wait another 9 minutes for the beginning is just plain ridiculous. And that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that Ms. Marsh has truncated the performance itself by lopping off two movements.

As I mentioned earlier, multi-channel videos focusing on what happens behind the scenes of some insanely large public spectacle is not exactly an original idea. Which then leads me to ponder Ms. Marsh’s use of the first and last movements from Bruckner’s 5th symphony. (If you’d like to hear them, click on these: Movement 1: Introduction (Adagio) — Allegro. Movement 4: Finale (Adagio) — Allegro moderato).

I’m not exactly the best musicologist, but with a little bit of Google-Fu it’s possible to discover all sorts of things about Bruckner’s fifth symphony. According to Gabriel Engel [pdf alert] Bruckner “saw the Fifth as the deeply personal expression of a genius doomed to utter loneliness by the scorn and neglect of
a misunderstanding world. He caught in the Adagio the true spiritual keynote of the work. Its brooding main theme was the despairing utterance of abandoned genius.
” It would have been nice if some of that personal expression had seeped through into Ms. Marsh’s video. Engel continues, “Far more than any of his other symphonies it is a polyphonic work, the composer’s proud description, ‘my contrapuntal masterpiece,’ testifying to the extraordinary care with which he had fashioned its many-voiced strains.

Given the multichannel nature of Ms. Marsh’s video it would have been fairly simple to have used the video to, if not copy or follow the counterpoint, to create her own, but sadly she chose not to. Two of the cameras are entirely static and the other two for the most part do slow pans across a very limited field of vision.

If you’re interested in reading the score, click on this.

Lynne Marsh, Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) Dry Run (picture taken from the catalogue to the Quebec Triennal 2011)
Lynne Marsh, Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) Dry Run (picture taken from the catalogue to the Quebec Triennal 2011)

Interestingly enough in the catalogue to the Triennal, the pages committed to Ms. Marsh’s work also show images from something called Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) Dry Run and in Marie Fraser’s essay that makes mention of Ms. Marsh she alludes to there having filmed the technicians during a performance of something by Mahler as well. Unfortunately Ms. Marsh’s website is not up to date so there is no information about it there. However, concurrently with the Triennal, she is exhibiting something called Philharmonie Project (Neilsen: Symphony No. 5) at Program in Berlin. According to the notes “the Philharmonie Project is a study on the staging of power systems, the cultural expression of mass consumption and the support structures that enable it to happen.” Which somehow gets translated for Quebec in the pages dedicated to Ms. Marsh in the catalogue of the Triennal as Ms. Marsh’s “practice is fuelled by a reflection on how these social spaces and their ideological orientation can be reconfigured through the camera lens.” I’m not so certain that I agree with either one. Earlier in the catalogue to the Triennal, Marie Fraser quotes Ms. Marsh as likening “the filming to a choreography, a dance where the rhythm and intensity of the music are translated by the action of the cameramen. Each image is precisely rendered: this is the camera as performer.

If this was the case, then someone would be selling tickets to watch the cameras and not selling tickets to hear the music (or watch the soccer game, stock car race, etc.) What Ms. Marsh is doing is shedding light on what goes on behind the scenes, which while interesting to some, ultimately can’t compare to the the original cultural event or performance. In the same way many more people will see Hamlet than will ever see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

And then as long as I am questioning things, given that the Triennal is a highly political exhibit, I’m not quite certain what to make of the fact that Ms. Marsh has been in both. Especially since she is no longer considered a “young” artist, and she’s got a gig as a senior lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire.

I haven’t quite come up with any specific theory or idea on or about the Triennal. But I also haven’t written anything about any of the art actually in the museum yet, either. I’m certain it’ll come, I just hope it’ll come sooner rather than later, because if I end up writing something like this for each of the artists involved, I’ll never get it done by the end of the week.

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.