Sophie Jodoin has been doing elegantly spare, slightly menacing collage work for years. These have tended to involve severed body parts with some additional ink or paint work and were filled with echoes of violent events (war, terrorism etc). Her new show at Battat Contemporary is far more pared down, but this has, strangely enough, added to her workꞌs suggestiveness. Spanning two walls, the pieces feature collages made from book pages. Things have been reduced to bare lines and the occasional rectangle. Stark black and white dominates the show with the exception of greyish and grizzled book sitting alone on a ledge and facing the other pieces. What the works suggest seems far removed from that which so much of her other work tends to hint at. Adding to this is her rather wise pairing with Jacinthe Lessard-L. Her work, including both large photos and a set of videos, involves the various combinations of the elements of a chair. The stark lines of the chair are set against a white background in different configurations. Both sets of work insist on their quality as assemblages that, in spite of their minimal qualities, also attest on their capacity for ready transformation. Their combination also brings out forcefully the architectural qualities which their images possess, the sense of interlocking elements for the creation of articulated spaces and neutralized negativity.
There is a clash between the minimalism (or the all-at-once-ness) of Jodoinꞌs spare imagery and the inclusion of a book itself at the centre of her exhibit. This is a contrast between that which is stubbornly and ꞌsculpturallyꞌ realist to the point of reduction (the claimed object) and which is abstracted, not through a reduction to basic elements but through an excising which makes the elements themselves excessive. In the white space that so dominates the showing, this is made all the more obvious. If the works had been displayed as book work rather than as the abstraction of books, they would have suggested something rather different, perhaps far humbler. As is, they lend the lines and rectangles so much gravity that their iconic functions trump everything else. In this respect the show, like much of the current reductive minimalist abstraction that has been percolating out of MFA programs, comes eerily close to something like the photography of Terry Richardson. By this, I mean that it marries the sense of a flashy ‘deskilled’ sense of iconicity with a spareness and overexposure that minimizes detail, is dominated by an overarching blankness and seems as concerned with lifestyle as anything else. This last detail is suggested more by Lessard-Lꞌs work where the assembling of the object is foregrounded in a marriage between a hipster home video and an IKEA catalogue.
What salvages Jodoin from this blank hipsterdom is her bookishness. Although books have always been a major component of her work, they have rarely dominated to the same extent. Unlike the previously weighty use of fragmented bodies which tended to give her work a (perhaps non-deliberate) comic air, here the absence of bodies or texts is so exaggerated that this absence itself becomes dramatic, even melodramatic. The use of the book in this instance, points not toward abstract painting but back to Sterneꞌs Tristram Shandy and its infamous black page. All of these blanks and blacks become synonymous with an absence materialized though not articulated as anything but a place-holder. This place-holding also refers back to the architectonic aspect of the work on display. Meanwhile, the book itself, unreadable in its display but bearing the marks of wear, speckled by dirt and dust, and resting beside a residue of black, seems to testify to precisely the kind of physical dimension which the images indicate.