Unexpected Encounters: Micheline Durocher, Christine Horeau, Marie-Christine Simard, Cydra MacDowall, Gail Bourgeois
September 14 – October 12, 2002

a response to the exhibition by Susan Turner

Gail Bourgeois began her ongoing curatorial research in 1999 while living and teaching in Montreal. The following year she produced found image with my history, a charcoal drawn diptych of an isolated house with no windows or doors, and paired it with a bulb and its root tendrils meandering below the surface. For her this drawing was profoundly disturbing and seemed emblematic both of an understanding she’d reached about her family relationships as well as about the gap between the binaries we ascribe to our understanding of our relation to the world. It was the catalyst to question what other artists might do with the same themes that interested her: “ruptures and the ordered flow of existence caused by a breakdown in expectations;” “the difficulty of human communication;” and the “urge to make a home or to nest.” After several studio visits, she selected the work of Montreal artists Micheline Durocher, Christina Horeau, and Marie-Christine Simard, and Cyndra MacDowell from Toronto. The exhibition was first seen at Women’s Art Resource Centre in Toronto. For the Winnipeg showing, the work of Helene Dyck was added. The exhibition will also travel to AKA in Saskatoon and will there add Monika Napier, from Saskatoon, and then to the Richmond Art Gallery, and will pick up a Vancouver artist as yet to be selected.

Bourgeois has archived her activity and emotional states as well as social/community interactions over the past few years with particular attention paid to the development of Unexpected Encounter, and has noted them in quick sketches on file-sized paper presented in a small wooden box that sits at the far end of the gallery.

The main gallery at aceartinc. is a large rectangular space painted white, and it’s there that most of the work is presented. But in an alcove at the top of the stairway entering aceartinc. and off to the side of the main gallery, Helene Dyck’s video Lacuna is projected at an angle onto the floor. It’s a fifteen minute loop of a throbbing, pulsating, abstract image which appears to be stretching out, coming back together, re-stretching, tearing, and finally breaking apart and working its way out to its own edges. At first I thought these were images from inside the body, or sinews and muscle, or the rendered flesh of an animal, but it’s bread dough, coloured red, being kneaded in a bread-machine. For Dyck the leavening of the dough is representative of elemental beginnings and the energy of life. But this exhibition is about ruptures, and Lacuna (a gap or cavity) can be read as a statement of loss, visceral grief, and then, perhaps, reconciliation. Unfortunately the video doesn’t read as intensely as it could because light filters in from the rest of the gallery and the hardwood strip flooring dilutes the projection.

Christina Horeau’s work, all entitled le dur désir de dire, (the difficult desire of speaking) is riveting in its tenderness. La gorge is nest-like, lanced by a hook and impaled onto the wall at the entrance to the gallery at the viewer’s stomach level. When things get caught in the throat, do we feel fear or anxiety in the pit of the stomach? Has communication been stopped by this brutal piercing? It and la bouche are made of wire stripped down to the copper and, in the case of la bouche, intertwined with pearls pouring out of the wirey “o” of its mouth. These two sculptures are particularly poignant and subtle. With much more directness she speaks of obstructions and detours in l’oreille, a metal and electronic tic-tac-toe construction with its current of interrupted light pricking out the pattern of the inner ear. Stoppers prevent the light from following its uninterrupted path. The grouping of twenty-two small oil stick, oil, and crayon drawings are scratched onto mylar: they’re an abstract semaphore where arms extend out from torsos to signal their yearning for communication and connection. The red drawings are flags commanding us to attention. Horeau’s work seems so resigned, so abject yet full of understanding. It’s beautiful.

Marie-Christine Simard presents eleven photographs under the title of la traversee (the crossing), and each has its own specific title. I’m most caught by the four black-and-white images of items found in the landscape, steps, tools, logs, and a clothes-line. They’re an unpretentious mini-documentary of the humbleness of the everyday. They’re gritty. A second grouping consisting of valley, Christine, and hummingbird is much different, and for me it’s puzzlingly elusive. (I think of the writing of Marguerite Duras, oblique, smoky, often elliptical and very sensate). And finally there are four colour prints which are abstractions of the natural world, turtle, path, ashes, and Chinese New Year. I’m unsure of Simard’s focus; I sense her respect and love for the world around her but can’t quite put my finger on her point of view.

Micheline Durocher’s mes petites lecons de lecture (the little reading lessons) are large scale digital ink-jet prints. They’re very readable. They say what they mean, and Durocher’s own statement cannot be improved, and I quote: “to visually engage with the gesture of the body as a Šsite where past experiences, desires, failings, and errors can be translated.” The self-portrait is digitally integrated with a floral, baroque-like tapestry, and is overlaid with an image from her grade-school reader, birds on their branches meshing into the throat as if it were the limb of a tree. She’s clutching at her throat as if something’s caught inside, life or words, trying to force their way down or out. (Imagine being unable to swallow, ever, to swallow nothing, neither liquid nor food, not even your own saliva)… By now, digitization is so much part of our vocabulary that it’s very rarely illuminating to comment on it, but in this instance the formal concerns and the conceptual impetus work so well together. Durocher’s second print is a series of hand gestures, the tense wringing of hands as if in despair or pain. Within these hand gestures are found many nests, many little sites within which refuge can be found.

Cyndra MacDowell presents Shadow City comprised of eight black and white photographs of a romanticized city landscape which serves as a backdrop for “lesbian sexual practices and the use of public space.” In only two of the prints, Doorway and Overlapping Kiss, is there any clear reference to women, and in her statement MacDowell says that she has “kept the work open to multi-desiring viewers.” At first glance, this body of work seems less to fit the curatorial themes than does the work of the other artists in the exhibition. It has a stated political purpose not present in the others’ work. Nonetheless there are ties to the overall themes of the exhibition. There are ruptures here, the rupture of leaving a familiar place. It is an adieu to Montreal that Macdowell bade when she left it. There is also the sense of nesting made apparent in the formal presentation of the work through the device of the “keyhole” format of the image, half as wide as it is high. Oblique references to nests are found in the doorways, staircases, spaces between buildings, narrowing city streets, and alleys of the photographs. This work is accomplished, very certain, and very seductive.

Unexpected Encounter is an intriguing exhibition presenting many opportunities for thoughtful contemplation. There is a great deal of work here, most of it modest in size, even small. Nothing shouts, nothing is blatant; it’s quiet, restrained, and elegantly installed. While there is much to look at, each artist’s grouping is spaced discretely apart from the next, and the exhibition in its entirety has a cohesiveness to it. At the opening I overheard someone remark, “it’s a smart exhibition, intelligent.” I agree and would add “beautiful” as well.

Susan Turner is an artist and writer living in Winnipeg. Her work deals with the difficulties of communication and with the fragility of the moment. Her video “Alien Hand” (2002) explores memory loss and the confused and suffering terrain of dementia. It premiered at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in the spring of this year, and is now showing internationally. It received a Jury Award at the Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival.

Curator’s Footnote:
My curatorial strategy of selecting a local artist in each city where Unexpected Encounter was presented resulted in an exhibition of eight Canadian artists engaged in a variety of contemporary art practices. Local artists joining the core group after Helene Dyck at aceartinc. in Winnipeg were Saskatoon sculptor Monika Napier and Vancouver photographer Grace Tsurumaru. Including an artist from each region made for an interestingly contextualized viewing experience. My curatorial intention was to foreground the creative process. Intuition and imagination are embedded in the lived experience of these artists, making possible a creative response to the ruptures caused by a breakdown in expectations. Thematically, the works presented convey the difficulty of human communication and they articulate an urge to make a home or to nest, however briefly. The diversity of voices presented a shape of wholeness and gave value to a nesting instinct that displaces melancholia and nostalgia.
-Gail Bourgeois