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John K. Grande

SPACE INVADERS: Contemporary Montreal Sculpture

Stewart Hall Art Gallery, Pointe Claire, Quebec, 2001

Espace Sculpture Magazine
[ 1,647 words ]


Billed by its organizer and curator Joyce Millar as a show that presents the work of sculptors who not only are involved in producing public sculpture commissions in Quebec but equally have a more private output and production destined for collectors and patrons, Space Invaders provides Montreal audiences with a look at five Quebec sculptors active in the field: Liliana Berezowsky, Linda Covit, Andrew Dutkewych, Gilles Mihalcean and Claude Millette. While sculpture has always maintained a public profile, whether it be in the form of public commemorative monuments to nationalism, war, religion, community or individual historical personages in the past or more contemporary 1% sculpture commissions in our era, we seldom get to see a range of such sculptures and maquettes collectively and by a range of Montreal artists like those presented in this show.

Joyce Millar proclaims that sculptors seem to work in two parallel universes —providing public commissioned work that is site specific and destined to be seen daily by those who work, study or generally pass through the spaces they are destined for. Originated in 1961, when the Quebec government enacted a policy that 1% of the cost of each new municipal or provincial building should be used for art to enhance the architecture, the 1% program has been much maligned, and sometimes for good reason. For example, some sculptors produce superior public sculpture without any government support, and with a stronger vision. Public or community input into the 1% program is minimal. The juries who decide tend towards a cloistered club-like atmosphere encouraging the same artists, and projects that encourage little in the way of spontaneous art creation. The process of jurying, selection and subsequent production mitigate against spontaneity by their very nature. That said, 1% does allow mature sculptors to have the opportunity to enact their ideas in a large scale, in spaces frequented by a broad range of people. Perhaps more importantly, a much neglected area of the contemporary arts scene - sculpture - gets much needed and permanent air and space play. The sculptors learn a lot through this process that can contribute to their more private production or in the best case scenario, their private production feeds their public art. Some contemporary sculptors find themselves working to create permanent works, while adhering to notions of ephemeral and impermanent artworks which can create a conflict in the final result. In a way, official public sculpture has been left behind by a broad-based movement towards vernacular popular and temporary artwork that shows no signs of receding. And so it tends to fulfil the requirements of the architect and planner, and the sculptor plays a secondary role in the process.

Gilles Mihalcean's assemblage titled Autoportrait de Dieu (pour mon Père] is a fascinating compressed looking assemblage of castaway wood elements from chairs, with a selection of assorted wooden details. Densely contained and vertically arranged, the piece has three distinct sections that build a harmony and rhythm out of the burnished, coloured or natural wood fragments inside. Designed after a snowman, the kind kids build in winter out of that Zen-like material that freezes and falls out of the sky — snow, it resonates with an emotive density, ripples with imagination. As Mihalcean comments: "The representation of the divine has preoccupied sculptors for centuries. (...) GOD CREATED MAN IN HIS OWN IMAGE. My statue is a self portrait of God that could have been made by him." This cosmological figure has three heads. Are these rounded forms a container, a structure or a cage for all the intricate recombinations of wood within? Even the pedestal it stands on is an assemblage, as if everything is tentative, abstract, could fall apart or recombine in an instant. There is beauty in this work!

Andrew Dutkewych's blindfolded figure stands on a real carpet. A smaller figure stands in his hand. Like an allegorical story within a story, the piece engages us to recreate some posited meaning out of this mysterious figural sculptural presence who is vulnerable, yet moves forward despite this, as if in a state of temporal and spatial suspension or dislocation.

Linda Covit's Zen-like Buddhist looking Silent Bell (1997) is a curious form made at Est-Nord-est in St. Jean-Port-Joli. out of linden wood, wrought iron, and preserved with oil and pigments. Created in response to travels in Japan, where she visited various Buddhist sites and read broadly on the subject, this large, pure elongated bell extends from ceiling to floor exuding a sublime spiritual air. The serenity, passivity and wholesome beauty of this work seems at odds with its size which is impressive. Accompanied by an open book we can leaf through with white gloves this "book" presented in a neatly fabricated wooden box was produced in collaboration with Arturo Silva in 1997. A texts reads: "When we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway." This passage could effectively describe the wooden bell. Photos of trees, ropes, a tipi-like structure, and close-ups of praying hands, and of monks, a sculpture studio in Japan, all add to the mystical quality of foreignness Covit is mining with this project.

Claude Millette's La Déchirure (2000) is a human-scaled Corten steel sculpture burnished brown on its surface. The form literally breaks open as if ripped apart by some force. Millette, who actually uses dynamite with his casts to create this effect, has a unique style involving chunky forms that fuse and segment from one to the next. The implicit movement in La Déchirure and La Garde (2000) are analogous to plate techtonics, where seemingly immovable angular forms do in fact move, but reluctantly, like a struggle between force and counter-force. Enigmatic and paradoxical, the tension between the integrity of these forms and their explosive breaking apart create a strong sculptural effect. The forms challenge the very formalism they mimic by breaking it apart, opening it up.

Liliana Berezowsky's Karena (1992) is a wheel of steel with a cube form in its centre out of which a pile of menacing pointed staves project. Is this a military-industrial production metaphor? It defies its own look because it has no ultimate function or purpose. This ingenious device is designed as if it were a cog in a larger machine, yet put together as it is, it becomes a curious aesthetic riddle. An earlier Berezowsky from 1994 titled When I Say I Love You, I Am Looking At My Reflection In Your Eyes is a pedestal/column composed of steel and glass with a tear-drop shaped beveled mirror in the centre. Sensitive and whimsical, it expresses all the unexpressed ambiguities inherent to our innermost dreams, desires and reflections. Tell Me You Still Believe in Beauty (1995) has a stuffed crow who sits perched on a glass chair. Its pure enigmatic magic strongly contrasts the seeming impregnability of the formidable Karena.

A series of 1% maquettes accompanies the more penetrating works from these artists' personal collections. One immediately recognizes the range of contrasting approaches to public projects, and equally how compromises render so many public projects as generic as dishwashing liquid. A Berezowsky maquette titled The Abundance of the Seasons has object elements rendered into sculptural form: a jack, golden leaf, silver balls, sundial, and horn of plenty — next to an architectural scale model. Linda Covit's maquette includes a shelf comprising five towers; Tower for Butterflies, Hearing the Forest, l'éventail, La Volute, and La Tour Lumière. Some of these forms involve grills that are folded, or triptych shaped. Mihalcean's series of columnar pieces created for the Pavillon Adrien-Pouliot at the Université de Laval comprise a conglomerate of forms and materials. These evoke a strong sense of history and of civilization building upon itself, as if in multiple geo-humanistic layers.

The industrial and natural are juxtaposed to create a balance between human culture and the culture of nature. Claude Millette's L'envoilure d'Eole (2000) created for CHSLD Vaudreuil and his Frebilité (1999) for the Symposium Internationale de l'Estraide in Granby are, like the larger piece in this show, comprised of sections of modular sculpted Corten steel, an amalgam of allegorical cubes, again blasted apart with TNT after casting. The most effective of all the 1% pieces, to my mind, is Andrew Dutkewych's 1992 bronze created for the archaeology museum in Pointe-à-Callière in old Montreal. A vessel-like hybrid shape reminiscent of an ancient amphora or vessel synthesizes and integrates form beautifully and with a superb Cragg-like sense of sculptural fusion. An elongated stone section and pot near the main piece carry an echo of the central piece further into the surrounding steps and environment of the museum entrance.

The way Dutkewych composes builds a tension of mystery, or rediscovery, as the form(s) and function(s)reinterpret their meaning by establishing an overall continuity, just as an archaeologist might do with elements found from the past, layered under the ground. Here is one of the most successful 1% public art projects I have ever seen in Montreal, for it integrates an aesthetic and theme that directly relates to the purpose and function of the archaeology museum it stands in front of, but does it with style and a clear vision of the Pointe-à-Calliere archaeology museum's theme. The spaces invaded by these Montreal sculptors works - the private studio and public domain - are so distinctly different, they are like two separate worlds. Though each sculptor's style persists in either realm, the sculptures they make for their own edification are more revealing!


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


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