For my first curatorial project at Circa, I have chosen three artists whose work has struck me and stayed with me over the years. I selected these artists for their distinctive ways of defining, interpreting and filling space, both literally and conceptually, with great economy of materials. In her installation The bear (in Smoke) 2009, Karilee Fuglem builds up a ghostly bear form using fine fishing line. A site-specific work, it was initially made in response to the changing physical and social landscape of Barrie, Ontario. The accumulation of almost invisible materials takes as its starting point the (relatively) fixed position of the stars in the Ursula Major constellation above that site. In this, as in all her work, there is an attempt to capture things barely seen, things which are only fully discovered when the viewer physically engages with the space, as the translucent threads are invisible unless caught by the light.
Two related projects by Renée Lavaillante, Observations depuis l’atelier de verre, (Projet de Strasbourg, 2011) and Percorsi romani, produced in 2005 during her residency at the Studio de Rome, consist of small, graphite drawings and accompanying video projection. Resembling lacy patterns, the graphite marks of her drawings track her observations of people moving through large open-air spaces. Landscape and topography also emerge as the build-up of lines defines park paths in Strasbourg and, in the voids of Percorsi romani, articulates the contours of Roman temple sites. Lavaillante’s way of drawing, which has more in common with scientific recording mechanisms than with art historical representation, serves as a way of understanding large open spaces and the history of place.
While hardly sharing the nearly invisible qualities of Fuglem and Lavaillante, Max Streicher’s striking work Silenus (in reference to the drunken tutor of Bacchus from Greek mythology) uses a minimum of material to give form to an imposing figure. Consisting of only a thin membrane of nylon spinnaker fabric inflated with air, it takes form by virtue of invisible material. The intermittent cycling of the air pump gives Silenus the illusion of breathing as it seemingly makes feeble attempts to rise up from the floor.
This work is part of a large corpus in which Streicher explores the formal and conceptual possibilities of inflatable forms. Though large enough to dwarf the viewer in the gallery, in its un-inflated state Silenus fits into a small suitcase.
It is no coincidence that all three artists reference mythologies in their work. Streicher’s use of the myth of Bacchus, Fuglem’s reference to constellations and Lavaillante’s siting of Percorsi romani amid the ruins of Roman temples. As these artists use the means at their disposal to encompass, define, and comprehend physical and temporal spaces, so too did our ancestors use mythologies to make sense of the world around them and the skies above them.
In their work, Fuglem and Streicher also explore the physical and formal properties of textiles from the systematic tangling of thread in The Bear so akin to crochet to Streicher’s exploitation of the enveloping properties of pieced and sewn cloth. The work also shares cloth’s ability to be deployed and stowed, to be there one moment and then folded away the next. To highlight this, the gallery has chosen to feature the work as part of the programming of En Avril…fibre/Textile/Art, a month long celebration of contemporary textile art.
Karilee Fuglem’s recent work uses accumulations of fine monofilament threads to fill and define space. Her works usually have a component of historical research related to the venue of her site specific installations. These often focus of long term shifts in the landscape; changes in positions of constellations over the centuries, changes in topography and in the build environment as well as changes in the social and political make up of the place. Her work, which can fill quite large spaces in often made up of negligible amounts of material and can be nearly invisible at first glance.
Fuglem has exhibited extensively throughout Canada and has been included in events such at the Biennal de Montréal and the Biennal de Sculture. She is based in Montreal but her work has not been shown extensively in this city for a few years.
Renée Lavaillante produces primarily works in various simple drawing media. Her work examines different ways to record events with drawing. This can include the movements of people through space over time as elements of chance in a Cagian tradition. The body of work selected for this exhibition is the series of drawings done at the Roman and from the atelier de verre in Strasebourg. In both works the artist’s pencil is used to delicately record a trace of people’s movements through the site, building up a record that defines the space and its obstacles. Her type of drawing is outside of the historical development of drawing as a way of depicting subjects in perspective and is more closely related to scientific mark making to record phenomena. Lavaillante is based in Montreal but many of her projects are works carried out in-situ during residencies, including The Studio a Rome and the atelier de verre in Strasbourg. Her work also deserves to be better known in Montreal and would benefit from greater critical exposure to have her complex and conceptual work be better known.
Max Streicher’s mature work uses inflated forms made up of carefully pieced and sewn membranes of ultra thin fabrics. The works often depict human forms, sometimes of great scale, and their titles refer to ancient roman mythology. He uses the action of the fans that inflate the forms to evocative effect, the slow inflation and deflation mimicking the growth and decline of life. His use of inflated forms is some of the most technically developed I have seen and was the original impetus for this project. Silenus, the work selected for this exhibition is an imposing work; it depicts a sleeping human form, it is 20 ft long and the full height of the gallery, creating a shift in scale and perspective for the gallery visitors’ that stand beside it. The fans that inflate it create subtle breath-like sounds. This work, while impressive for its formal qualities and exploration of materials, is also the most accessible to a general audience and will encourage a wider audience to come to the exhibition. Based in Toronto he has not shown in Montreal for many years yet has exhibited internationally.
Montreal artist Lalie Douglas creates objects, installations and performances which question our expectations of how art should behave and questions the rules at play both inside the gallery and outside in public spaces. She has exhibited in her home province of Quebec and internationally. Her recent projects include The Corner of your Eye (Neutral ground, Regina, 2011), Stories of the Sky Told Underground (Art Souterrain, 2011) Take Your Fears Away (Calgary and Montreal, 2009) and she will be in residence at 3e Imperial this fall. Her work has been supported by several grants including a research and creation grant from the Canada Council and she holds an MFA from Concordia University, in Montreal. Douglas has exhibited works in both textile techniques and more traditional sculptural materials. She has researched the history of textile arts for her own projects and in her own work has reflected on the intersection of art and craft that underlies work in that media.