L’arc-en-ciel n’existe pas
Montreal artist Simon Bilodeau‘s latest show at Art Mur is something of a culmination of many of the tendencies that have been present in his work for more than half a decade. Unlike other artists who concentrate on ‘materiality’, Bilodeau’s is a resolutely cold sensibility devoid of any of the touchy-feely aesthetic touches that plague so much current abstract work. He constructs mausoleums, not party spaces. Bilodeau has said, Par ce choix plastique de n’utiliser aucune couleur, je consens à ne susciter aucune émotion par les couleurs utilisées, puisque celles-ci, je crois, tendraient par comparaison à prendre pour réalité ce qui est présenté. (By the choice not to use any plastic colour, I agree not to provoke any emotion by the colours used, since they, I think, tend to take compared to what is actually presented.) Which is to say, the painting (or sculpture) negates the emoticon function for the sake of the image.
His earlier paintings were littered with the objects of disaster which mirrored the installation of the pieces themselves. Carrion birds circled over these objects, much like the audience does. The art work was equated with entrails and evisceration and the viewer with a parasite. This carnivorous activity is mocked by Bilodeau through the exploitation of his own proper name. Often spelled out by weighty industrial materials in mock pathos, he equated branding with the ruined remnants of empire, and the purchase power that the market grants to a name with destruction.
On one level he was mocking the name, the cult of personality of the artist and the market value that comes with it. Projected into the future, the artist’s implied immortality is a remarkably immobile one, stuck in the space with a leaden determination and encased in its own ruin. But the use of the name has another nuance. It functions as a depersonalized avatar, suspended in time like the immortality of an aristocratic name. Like the heads of the beasts which decorated the wall in Fuck Your Life, it has a heraldic function, symbolizing the point of indifference between life and death that is proper to a singularity, one which is paradoxically reproduced as itself and basically sterile.
Even any hint of bacterial life in his work has been killed off, if only apparently. The viewer is there to take that place, like dust. Kandinsky said that grey is ‘an inconsolable immobility,’ A sentiment ruthlessly mocked in Bilodeau’s predominately grey work and his floating white block in Échec luxuriants. And it is hard not to recognize in these floating objects a mockery of the works of someone like Rachel Whiteread and her heavy handed history monuments, or Arte Povera’s unintentional capacity to make urban decay more boutique friendly, softening the brutality of matter. Perhaps even more tellingly, his use of mirrored surfaces and heaps of rubble resembles the work of David Altmejd. If Altmejd is a romantic, in the best and worst senses of the word, Bilodeau is more of a realist and his satire more deliberate, more thoroughgoing, and unhampered by flirtations with affective redemption through campiness.
Grey, black, grey, silver white. They congeal into one another. There is always degree in his work though. This comes through aggregation and distance. Negative space is of great importance in his work. The audience fills it up as part-objects, rendered as anonymous as all other aspects of the work. The audience is nothing, but this nothing is important insofar as it occupies dead space. The greyness that verges on indifference that the works vaunt across the space seems almost fragile when first encountered. But as time goes by, the space fills up. The scale of the greyness begins to weigh.
Ce que l’on ne voit pas qui nous touche is less theatrical than his exhibits usually are. It’s more sombre, more reductive. This is important. Frequently, past shows have displayed a certain expansiveness, both in terms of materials, imagery and general thematic suggestiveness. While it contains a handful of graphite depictions of decaying buildings, and far few sculptures than usual, the exhibit is dominated by his acrylic paintings that flirt with the non-representational. They are no such thing, of course. Rather, they are displays of the negative space produced by decay, which both maps and reproduces it. Texturally, they have the sense of being scraped down from the waste of life. There was a certain degree of dissonance in the voice of the work in early installations. That’s largely gone here, replaced by a kind of vibrating consonance that literally has a tendency to pull things down. Collapse is a nearly omnipresent theme in his work. Before, it could come out in large gestures (such as those found in Le monde est un zombie) that had a sardonic tint, a mocking gravity or mocking of gravity. But in this show, the works are literally flattened on the floor or come off as elements of floors abstracted to the wall. So he cuts it both ways. Either the image denies itself as a vertical (anthropomorphic) image, or it denies the gravity of the viewer, undercutting them and suspending whatever can prop them up. There is more literalness in this show and that means that there is less to fill in, less to project and the image can take the place of imagining. This also has something to do with how he displays the paintings less as special, boutique items. That market mockery is reserved for a few sculptures with his signature bits of rubble, accumulated and barely held together by a fine netting of silver jewelery. For the most part though, the paintings dispense with this humour of display. Even the grids he was superimposing on his painted surfaces have mostly vanished.(1)
It would be misleading to say these images present decay. Rather, they present the dead image of decay. This sets up a specific situation. The image takes the viewer as its object; the viewer’s experience functioning as the decaying remainder of the image. To paraphrase Hobbes: an image is the decay of a thing. But the viewer is the decay of an image. More complexly, as a vehicle of decomposition (an organic creature), the viewer, by their presence, is an agent of contagion for the image as object. They function as a kind of death knell, more symbolically material than actually material, since the eyes stuck in the heads of these roving bodies register as less than light, less than dust. Their positive value is largely their contribution to dust (as rotting in presence) or as something that light can bounce off of.
(1) A few of those older works from Ce qu’il reste du monde were up in an adjoining room. They provided a near perfect complement to the show by Nicolas Grenier that was being shown on the ground floor. You can read me on Grenier a few years ago here.