Curator's text

Contemporary artists have seized upon walking and have given it pride of place in their practices and methodologies. Walking enables them to value the long term, duration; to take care of themselves and others; to circle back in order to re-read, restate, reconsider; to explore liminal spaces, the outer reaches of what is visible. Walking’s ubiquity, where art and the everyday are persistently interwoven, echoes what philosopher Michel de Certeau posited some decades earlier in the first volume of The practice of everyday living. In his book, de Certeau analyzes the actions of those he refers to as the “ordinary practitioners of the city.” He recognizes that the various power structures that manage urban spaces have (over) organized them, but de Certeau also notes that citizens who move within these spaces can subvert their prescribed meaning and usages.

De Certeau pays close attention to walking—one of the most common urban operations which, while outwardly banal, conceals a strong potential for defiance. Following his train of thought, walking can be a creative act by which we disregard the paths imposed by urban areas, choosing instead to cross where we wish, to pick our own roads. This capacity for insubordination recalls the diverse approaches practised in contemporary sculpture; indeed, the thirteen artists invited to participate in the tenth Trois-Rivières National Bien­nial of Contemporary Sculpture refuse to be confined within the specificities of a single medium. Instead, they present projects where performance, video art, craft, and digital art cross. This diversity not only continues to challenge our operational definitions of artistic media, but also forces us to question the categories that have structured the field for decades. It encourages a rethinking of how the authority of institutions—our institutions—spreads out through space.

The projects put forward by the thirteen artists participating in the 2022 BNSC are thus exhibited as processes—manoeuvres—, individual and collective gestures that identify ways of making, transmitting, exchanging, and setting into motion. The use of the term manoeuvre here is linked to the thinking undertaken by the performance community in Québec since the early 1990s.1 Manoeuvre is understood as performative actions created beyond traditional systems of legitimization—a vision opposed to the elitism of establi­shed rules, which seeks to be inserted into the fabric of everyday life, “a return to the involvement and participation of spectators in the creative process.”2 A few decades later, the essence of the manoeuvre seems to have crossed disciplinary boundaries and lodged itself in object-oriented practices, and that its spirit also permeates quotidian gestures. Thus, to echo the thought of Michel de Certeau, for whom the space of the city is a text that is rewritten as we walk and manoeuver within it, we invite you to consider this Biennial as a place where artists and public can redefine their relationships, renegotiate their living conditions and imagine other possibilities.

Among the questions that run through this tenth BNSC, we note the urgent need to rethink our links to the land. Many of the artists brought together by the Biennial propose projects that acknowledge the consequences of our overconsumption; they note the excessive extraction and perpetual overuse of the land’s resources, and bear witness to the updated violence of settler colonialism. By rejecting the harmful logic of domination, discrimination, and oppression, their creations lead us to envision other ways of being and circulating on the land. Take, for example, Edith Brunette and François Lemieux, who will present a version of their work Aller à, faire avec, passer pareil, a material, sound, and video inves­tigation of spaces (that are either abandoned or where private property has made access limited) which reconsiders our habits and habitats. Investigation is also at the heart of Anthologie de la marche [Walking: An Anthology] by Geneviève Baril. The artist’s approach is fed by a series of repetitive gestures executed during walks along the shores of the St. Lawrence River and in fields and forests. These wanderings allow Baril to gather not only materials but also her thoughts, a process tinged with slowness and calm.

Other projects focus on the changing character of the land and bear witness to the enormous transformative ability that nature and species coexisting within it have. Patrick Beaulieu’s FONDRE [MELT] is the result of a seventeen-day snowmobile trip to the north of Québec’s boreal forest, at the height of the snowmelt. This work reminds us that “stealth” art can exist beyond urban centres and that stealthiness is also an ecological strategy—Beaulieu has fully compensated the carbon footprint of his intervention. In Guillaume Brisson-Darveau’s Les cocons [The Cocoons], performers don a series of devices and thus take on the appearance of temporary and hybrid bodies whose mutations evoke both the metamorphoses of the land and the mixed body representations of science fiction and manga. This work benefited from a collaboration with Innofibre, a cellulosic product innovation centre, which allows the artist to explore materialities rooted in the knowledge and techniques of this place.

In Emily Jan’s Traces de pas/Footsteps, various animal species are the ones who under­go elemental transformations. This installation is in direct response to the environmental impacts of the Anthropocene, which are accelerated by the health crisis and geopolitical chaos. Jan’s work brings together a series of creatures where native and invasive species of the area cross, their intertwinement foreshadowing the aftermath of our movements in the world. A post-Anthropocene, post-apocalyptic nature is also evoked in Adam Basanta’s The Unknown Future Rolls Towards Us. Amidst the detritus left by humans’ time on the planet, a resilient flora is seen and heard, conceiving a living world after us, converting a wasteland into a garden of sound. Sarah Rothberg’s installation Water Without Wet focuses on various ordinary gestures, usually performed mechanically, but which reveal the ubiquity of water in our daily lives. Through a virtual reality device that simulates these gestures then transposes them into various abstract forms, the artist is interested in the ways in which water resists static categories, being simultaneously inside and outside our bodies, indispensable to our daily lives yet taken for granted.

Whereas the interaction between individuals and their ecosystems is at the heart of many projects at the Biennial, human relations also appear as meaning-filled matter with which the artists can grapple. Charley Young shows The Space Between Held Hands, a series created in 2016 in the context of the arrival of many Syrian refugees to Canada and in partnership with the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia. Young invited family members to hold hands so that she could mould the empty space where the hands met. The resulting 32 abstract, irregular cast bronze shapes provide a moving record of these encounters. Carlos Amorales’ Life in the Folds is a polymorphic production inspired by various wind instruments made by the artist. The sculptures, which will be activated in performances throughout the BNSC, are also featured in a film by Amorales, which tells the story of a family’s relocation to a new city.

While Amorales’ and Young’s creations stem from meditations on the process of contem­porary migration, Karen Tam’s Mrs. Spring Fragrance’s Morning Room and Garden stages domestic and public spaces peppered with references to Chinese-Canadian history; this presentation thus shines a light on narratives of exodus ignored by our institutions. The installation is a double portrait of Edith Maude and Winnifred Eaton, sisters and authors born of an English father and a Chinese mother, who grew up in Montréal at the end of the 19th century. The title’s “Mrs. Spring Fragrance” recalls one of Edith Maude Eaton’s most popular publications—a collection of short stories recalling the daily lives of Chinese immigrants in North America.

Whereas Tam examines the absence of immigrants in the Canadian historical narrative, Ursula Johnson trains a critical eye at the conditions under which First Nations became “visible” in the Canadian education system. The artwork Lukwaqn/Elukwet/Amalukwet/Nata’lukwet/Elukwek/Amalukwek/Nata’lukwek is developed as an intergenerational dialogue with the artist’s grandfather. It addresses the instrumentalization of Indigenous knowledge in Canadian schools, where the presence of First Nations peoples as “guests” in the official school curriculum confers onto them a marginal position, which in turn contributes to their precariousness.

And finally, other projects taking place during this tenth BNSC propose how contem-porary artists can realize, through their work, other possible worlds within the gallery itself, recognizing both its impossible neutrality and immense potential for reactivation. Annie Charland Thibodeau deconstructs the principle of monumentality in contemporary sculpture in a series of objects made of granite and construction materials. Her analysis supports a transformation of some of the roles of sculpture in the public space—as a mo­numental object dedicated to permanence and maintaining a spirit of commemoration. Sheena Hoszko’s sculptural practice is informed by prison abolitionism and a critique of the prison industry. By treating the manoir de Tonnancour as an institution having played various roles in the history of Trois-Rivières (a seigniory, a hospital, a prison, a boys’ school, and now an art gallery), her project invites visitors to the Biennial to be creative in re­viewing the ways in which we relate to and care for one another.

Daniel Fiset's text, Guest curator 2022

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