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John K. Grande

Daniel Corbeil: Hybrid Landscapes & Inflatable Ironies

EXPRESSION, Centre d’exposition de Saint-Hyacinthe
June 1st - 30th, 2002

[ 999 words ]

With a playful sense of irony, Daniel Corbeil has, over the years, progressively explored the social and cultural values that lie beneath each object/artifact he has produced. Earlier Corbeil sculpture/installations associated with transport included a kayak and airplane. Narratives were built into these works, to suggest fictional yet entirely credible events and histories. Corbeil likewise has produced miniature maquettes, replete with industrial artifacts and natural scenery. The subsequent photographs actually "look like" real life full scale landscapes but are entirely fictional. Corbeil's latest installation sculptures now on view at Expression in Saint-Hyacinthe, play on that same fictional aspect seen in his earlier work, and with the same economic use of recycled materials to express ideas about technology, civilization and the history of design. He likewise plays with scale, varying his inflatable creations from human scale, to outlandish large mascots of some Jules Verne-like fiction, whether from the past, the present or future.

The Topographie aérienne, site no. 30 and 31, three-dimensional wall mounted tableaux are largely fictional creations. They use recycled materials with a sublime sense of humour. The irony here, as with all of Corbeil's sculptures, is that we have a sense that this civilization Corbeil is depicting, is estranged from our own, yet resembles it to a great deal. And so, witnessing the layout of a village made of recycled computer chips and bits, or seeing a cloud made of cotton batten, the green landscape being the green plastic carpeting used in conventional Mini-Putt golf courses or on backyard patios in suburbia. These are materials that emblemize a society based on overproduction, where the logic of materials, the sense of their origins and economic sense has largely been lost. The bird, made in an almost folkloric way, whose wings beat, or the copper fan propellers embedded in the landscape, even the transparent plastic that blows ever so listlessly, all suggest a civilization far advanced from our own, but one that could likewise be ours.

The close irony, the errors in production and representation seen in the two topographies built by Corbeil can likewise be seen in the objects of transport he has built. One is reminded of the Belgian sculptor Panamarenko or the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely's awkwardly functioning sculpture machines. Like these sculptors Corbeil eulogizes, pays hommage to the vernacular, the everyday, to the imperfections that make daily life so interesting. Even when creating these impossible technological hybrids, these sublime airships of his imagination, Corbeil alternately exaggerates or underestimates, in terms of dimensions, materials, designs. Indeed one key to his artmaking practice, is the theatre of life itself. The solitary figure of a man who stands next to some miniature synthetic model trees, is preparing to embark on a journey on Corbeil's Nacelle pour expérimentation aérienne (2002). He holds a yellow rope, is attached almost umbilically to this gondola, and he is everyman. The entry porthole that opens downwards, the viewing windows, allude to humanity's age-old thirst for exploration. But everything here is makeshift and very human. (How different is the porthole from a garbage can lid? And the white stairs with the word CAUTION! can be seen at a lot of Montreal city work sites.) Indeed, the quilt-like surface of the airship's exterior has some of the texture of the Elvis Presley era, of an old designer sofa, or the white padded interior of an old Chevrolet, but the gondola likewise looks like it's designed to travel. Maybe it can even travel to the stratosphere, just as the Swiss physician Auguste Piccard (1884-1962) did in 1932, reaching a height of 16,000 metres above the earth. Piccard, whose character was an inspiration for Belgian cartoonist Hergé's Professeur Tournesol, has likewise been a mentor of sorts for Daniel Corbeil and helped inspire his fictional objects of transport.

The largest work in this exhibition has been likened by various people to a light bulb or a jellyfish. Titled Hydrozoaire (2002) this hybrid transport is fully non-functioning, yet aesthetically beautiful. It has a majesty that is fictional and develops a narrative, just as Corbeil's earlier works exhibited at Galerie Skol and Axe Neo-7 have done. The latest sculptures have further refined that thin line between illusion and reality, that separates artifice and physical materiality. Inflated by two fans that stand on the gallery floor to either side, Hydrozoaire, with its weight bags neatly placed in rows and attached chords, looks like it is about to embark on an immense journey. The destination, where it originates, and what exactly the nature of its purpose are never made clear.

The hybridity of Corbeil's designs, the ambiguity of these vehicles' purpose and history, alludes not only to civilization's seeming inability to remember its past, but equally to the way, in our unceasing urge to progress, we set aside technological innovations of the past and relegate them to the trash heap. They are often every bit as, if not more, effective, ecological and efficient, than the technological artifacts and tools that replace them.

Perhaps the most elegant example of Daniel Corbeil's ingenious ability to dance between design, aesthetics, invention and fiction is the smaller Table d'expérimentation (2002) balloon-like structure, which has a series of tiny orange coloured weights tied to blue ribbons that dance around its perimeter. The movement results from a small fan installed beneath the platform whose opening is painted a decorative blue and pink. There is a ceremonial sense of humour, and theatricality, that pervades this Table d'expérimentation piece, and all the sculptures on view at Expression. It is as if they were modern-day allegorical processional floats for some fictional festival, like those brightly painted sculptures invented and created for the Agricultural Festivals in Quebec in the 19th century, but their purpose and destination remains a neo-mythical mystery.

Text: © John K. Grande. All rights reserved.


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