Future Bodies: Living a Posthuman Imaginary World
Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau, formerly Seripop, are reputed for their early days of screen-printing posters and large-scale, colourful and immersive paper installations. Though the introduction of theatrical elements and dance may seem like a departure from their existing œuvre, the artists’ most recent body of work is an expansion of their collaborative practice and a continuation of their prodigious material exploration.
Is it the Sun or the Asphalt All I See is Bright Black is a performance in 10 sketches presented in the form of a two-channel video projection and installation. The artists collaborate with professional dancers to explore the lifespan of materials and how they react under stress.
A leathery peach-coloured tarp, a glossy pink puddle of latex, a set of papier-mâché rings, an intestinal object suspended from a yellow umbilical-like bungee cord; these are just some of the many assorted props displayed – hooked, stuffed, twisted, and hung from the walls. The installation, characterized by a muted and contemplative palette––sanitary blue, scab brown, innocuous beige, medicinal mustard, timid taupe and pepto pink, in addition to others––is an affective encounter for viewers. One cannot help but draw parallels with the human body, its colours, textures, shapes, and processes.
For this new work, Lum and Desranleau have constructed a material terrain that shifts and changes over time. At the will of the camera, new facets of the same elements are slowly revealed throughout the duration of the performance.
As with most time-based art, this work demands patience from its viewers. An audio track of ambient noise helps us focus, honing our senses. Each sketch is ushered in with a steady camera pan and defined by a solo dance performance and a voice-over inner monologue that hails the viewer. The sequence opens with an existential sentiment: “‘is it necessary to do this,’ they say?”
Collaboration has always driven the duo’s practice, and over the last few years, their process has grown to include other creative people. Acting as mediators for the artwork and surrogates for the audience and the artists themselves, the addition of dancers attests to the couple’s commitment to experimenting and exploring different forms of expression, not limiting themselves to only areas of expertise. Each sketch is a dance of improvised choreography in which Lum and Desranleau give minimal instruction. Trust between the artists and performers is paramount as well as respect for each other’s creative skill and keeping a distance in order to make this work. The two artists, while not featured as dancers in their theatrical productions, are no strangers to stage performance, being former musicians.
Taking on the art of movement, the artists discuss and reflect on personal and shared experiences and the symptoms of living: embarrassment, pain, exhaustion and mania but also empowerment, confidence and refuge. In one sequence, we see a dancer don heavy black rubber-like armour. It adds weight and volume to her body, strengthening her presence. In another instance, a dancer struggles to dress herself. She stretches a wearable sculpture, a peach bladder with red phalanges, over her head but is unable to find an opening. Her face is concealed. This uncanny imagery recalls Miranda July’s mysterious and odd t-shirt dance in her film, The Future (2011) or Rene Magritte’s painting, The Lovers II (1928) that depicts two enshrouded faces attempting to kiss through fabric. These moments, both banal and passionate are depicted as emotional trials of struggle, frustration and isolation.
Drawing on cyborg and disability theory, this new work occupies a posthuman imaginary world. Their Cronenberg-esque sculptural objects are hybrid, both apparatus and appendage while straddling a number of binaries; weapon and remedy, junky and precious, deficient and excessive, abject and sublime. At times, body and sculpture seem one in the same, as the dancer adopts the qualities of her prop/costume and vice versa. Watching the dancers caress, cradle, manipulate and manoeuver their surroundings provides viewers with a sense of satisfaction and relief. Such engagement helps quell our urge to touch the art but also compels us to imagine what it would be like to hold, wear and interact with the unique objects and perhaps, fantasize about our fluid and impervious posthuman techno-bodies.
Under the directions and conditions Lum and Desranleau set out, the dancers are free to move the way they want and to interpret how the given components of their new future body will function. Each dancer approaches the objects differently and intuitively with their own predilections and consciousness. Apropos our contemporary social climate of global anxiety and fear, this new work offers a reprieve and responds to an urgency of reimagining the self.
Chloë Lum & Yannick Desranleau have participated in many group exhibitions throughout Canada, the United-States, and in Europe, including the Center for Books and Paper Arts, Columbia College, Chicago (2015); the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (2011); the Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2010); the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England (2009); and at Whitechapel Project Space, London (2007). Their recent solo exhibitions include Khiele Gallery, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota (2016); the University of Texas, Austin (2015); the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, Charlottetown (2014); YYZ Artists’ Outlet, Toronto (2013); and Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto (2012). Their performances have been presented at the Darling Foundry (2015), and as part of the OFFTA festival (2016). Lum and Desranleau are also known on the international music scene as co-founders of the avant-rock group AIDS Wolf, for whom they also produced award-winning concert posters under the name Séripop.
In 2016, Desranleau was awarded the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Fellowship in Contemporary Art, and in 2015, the duo was long-listed for the Sobey Art Award. Their work is included in many collections, namely the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; and the BMO collection.
Yannick Desranleau holds an MFA in sculpture from Concordia University in Montreal, and Chloë Lum is an MFA candidate at York University, Toronto. Lum & Desranleau are represented by Galerie Hugues Charbonneau in Montreal, and they currently split their time between Montreal and Toronto.
Karie Liao is co-founder and currently the Curatorial Projects Coordinator for the Toronto Art Book Fair established in 2015. Most recently, she was the Curator at Cape Breton University Art Gallery (2015-2016), where she organized collection-based and contemporary art exhibitions with a focus on Atlantic Canadian artists and themes. In the past, she has also held positions including Resident Curator at Artscape Youngplace (2014-2015), Artistic Director of Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area (2013-2014) and Curator-in-Residence at the Textile Museum of Canada (2011-2013). She is a graduate of the York University M.A. Art History program.