The Canadian Art Database

Yvonne Lammerich

Montréal: Atom Egoyen, Betty Goodwin, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, and Nadine Normand.

Contemporary, October 2002.
[ 704 words ]

Putting the city squarely on the international map, the event that dominates Montréal's visual arts agenda this autumn is the 3rd Biennale de Montréal (26 September - 3 November). Entitled Life is life, it sets out to address a conflict of opposites expressed succinctly as 'stoicism versus hedonism'. Drawing is promoted as the main medium, its disciplined, yet tactile character seen as offering a link between the concepts of minimalism and excess suggested in the theme. The Biennale features some 30 or more artists from around the world, including Coi Guo-Qiang (China / USA), Casagrande & Rintalo (Finland), Colette (USA), Angela Grauerholz and Alain Paiement (Canada), Daniel Guzman (Mexico), Matt Hale (United Kingdom), Anton Henning (Germany), Koganezowa Takehito (Japan) and Fabien Verschaere (France).

Elsewhere in Montréal, four Canadian artists offer different perspectives on the body as a site of anxiety and imminent risk, something that seemingly preoccupies the Canadian psyche. Sound and media artist Janet Cardiff, with partner George Bures Miller, has evolved an increasingly layered interior experience for the viewer which explores the phantom ground where traditional commonsense reality yields to a disturbing, fragmented state of consciousness. A survey exhibition of their work — recently on view at the Musée d'art contemporain and touring to P.S.I in New York in the autumn — presented an opportunity to track Cardiff's evolution from the Walking Pieces (made from 1991) through to To Touch (1993) and up to The Muriel Lake Incident (1999). What became evident was the intense sensation of disconnection between Cardiff's character and her projected intimate correspondent. This disconnection may reflect the artist herself, but it also has its roots in the terrain in which she has spent the last several years.

To spend time in Lethbridge, where Cardiff and Bures now live, is to appreciate a particularity of prairie experience and the community of artists within which they are the undoubted stars. Small and immaculate, Lethbridge seems inserted into the vastness of Alberta's landscape, its lovingly preserved bungalows and broad quiet streets suggestive of the fifties and early sixties. Eternal garage sales recycle and reclaim comforting memories of childhood that never quite succeed in eradicating the elemental terror of being engulfed by a land that tolerates but remains aloof from those who come to settle. Lethbridge artists have become adept at transforming this terror into rehearsals of that uncertainty, producing a highly performative art of ritualised theatre in the work of younger artists like Michael Campbell and David Hoffos, and of course Cardiff herself.

If Cardiff engages through collusion, Betty Goodwin's work seeks to acknowledge the mark of the body's presence in an affirmation of its sheer survival and capacity for extension. One of Canada's most important contemporary artists, Goodwin first established her name as a printmaker with her innovative series of vests, shirts and gloves. As the critic Robert Enright has observed, no one has 'so consistently and movingly traced the body's fragile negotiations between being and not being, between presence and absence, and between hope and despair.' As the featured artist selected by director Claude Gosselin, her work will feature prominently at the Montréal Biennale.

Also on view at the Musée d'art contemporain is artist-in-residence Atom Egoyan's Out of Order installation, which investigates the preservation of collective memories by technology, whose inevitably limited shelf-life reminds us that the technological body is no less vulnerable to generational displacement than its biological inventor. The installation consists of outdated reel-to-reel tape recorders donated by a number of Montréal families, whose histories tranform these machines into memory cells.

Also at the Musée d'art contemporain, from 21 November 2002 - February 2003, the Paris-based Canadian artist Nadine Normand presents her I'm available. How about you? Normand s work came to prominence and notoriety when she staged interviews between call girls and clients at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris last year. Through installation, performance and video, her project at the Musée continues her examination into how public and private codes of communication inform the role and function of women in contemporary culture.

Contemporary, October 2002.

Text: © Yvonne Lammerich. All rights reserved.

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