The Montreal cooperative printshop Atelier Circulaire kicked off the first complete season of its new exhibition space with two remarkable shows this past fall: “Universal” by the Texas-based duo Leslie Mutchler and Jason Urban, and “La fabrication de l’espace” by Quebec artist Andrée-Anne Dupuis-Bourret. In very different yet complementary ways, the two exhibitions exploited the glass-walled gallery’s potential for spatial engagement. Mutchler and Urban doubled the glass walls with movable partitions that carried an enigmatic series of near-identical prints, thus providing sneak peaks of the gallery space before letting the viewer inside. Dupuis-Bourret decided to remove the partitions and used the gallery as a display window for her experiment in spatial relations.
The gallery is located in the revamped De Gaspé building between the Mile-End and Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhoods, and its major point of architectural interest is the glass corner that opens onto the building’s street-like first-floor corridor. It does not look like the typical gallery white cube and could easily be converted into a “black box” space with its black ceiling and grid of pipes from which the lighting system and movable walls hang. The aquarium quality imparted by the small, exposed space both allows for eccentric projects and imposes a certain concision on them.
Circulaire’s immediate neighbors are the well-known artist-run centers Optica, Dazibao, Occurrence, Diagonale and Clark; others are scheduled to join them in the coming year. The building renovation is far from finished, however, and Montrealers are wondering whether the remaining ground floor spaces will be filled with luxury boutiques, videogame design studios, corporate offices or fast-food stalls.
Leslie Mutchler/Jason Urban: “Universal”
Universal time, universal pictures. These were the associations that occurred to me when I entered Mutchler and Urban’s exhibition. In fact the title refers to the typeface designed by Bauhaus director of graphic arts Herbert Bayer in the early 20th century. Bayer is also the reference point for the cryptic design—a kind of nested angular archway—that recurred in various permutations throughout the show: in three subtle grayscale prints (a photolithograph, a screenprint and a woodcut); as a woodblock leaning against the wall; in a photograph of a different but similar woodblock; and on numerous copies of a newspaper folded, piled and sandwiched between a Plexiglas plinth and a chalky rock. It also appeared on the ripped-off cover of a Bayer monograph in the form of a full-color reproduction of the designer’s painting Chromatic Gate (1969), which anticipated his monumental sculpture of the same name, first erected in 1975 in Philadelphia and later moved to Santa Barbara. The artists had chosen this image as the pivot of a series of experiments at Artists Image Resource in Pittsburgh, and while their reasons are never spelled out, its reiteration suggests a disquieting folding of time/space (think, for instance, of the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). The exhibition’s affect, however, is a far cry from Kubrick’s hallucinatory mode; a closer comparison might be a Guy de Maupassant fantastique short story, but one taking place inside Gropius’ Bauhaus. The viewer wonders: did the hands on that Karlsson clock just move? No, wait, it is a digital print of a Karlsson clock mounted under Plexiglas. What is time? What are pictures?
The deliberate placement of objects and the atmospheric lighting enable the gallery to impersonate the Artists Image Resource studio space in Pittsburgh where the work shown at Circulaire was made and where an eponymous video was shot. On view in the gallery, its warm, yellowish glow and the gray light from an overcast afternoon provide context for the works nearby. Over the course of a six-minute-long loop we see the softbox lighting kit that also appears in a large digital print in the gallery; we see cropped images of stacks of paper, hands, hinges. We catch reflections of the Pittsburgh studio in a thin layer of water left on a photolithography plate—a slowly evaporating semi-image.
These reflection games—gray surfaces and glares—disrupt the picture plane. The close-cropping and angled frames of the video provide a lens through which to look back at the images and objects in the exhibition. As viewers, we wait by the side of the artist who remains out-of-frame, our eyes on details of the press bed. The handmade quality of the exhibited prints and objects seems to fall out of sync with the serial quality of printmaking. I became confused as to what I had just seen on the screen: I kept waiting for an event to take place, but was only given a collection of micro-actions and atmospherics. I am not sure whether the loop was the same the second time. This bizarre sense that space and time were slightly offset felt like it might be the result of daydreaming for too long while fanning a photosensitive plate before pulling a print. I was not entirely sure the space I walked back into was the same from which I had entered the small screening room. Did that clock just move ? What is time? What are pictures?
Andrée-Anne Dupuis-Bourret: “La fabrication de l’espace”
While Mutchler and Urban teased viewers with narrow glimpses into the gallery from the corridor outside, Dupuis-Bourret opened the gallery completely on one side to reveal her evolving installation to passersby. The project continued her investigation of modular assemblage based on printed monochromatic patterns. Those patterns, whether hand-drawn, digital designs or photo-based, are often reproduced in large numbers on paper sheets that are carefully folded or, as here, freely crimped, rolled and stapled to form organic rings of various sizes. At Circulaire, boulder-shaped paper sculptures screenprinted with images of mineral formations were loosely scattered along the glass wall alongside black boxes containing paper “sticks” waiting to be shaped into rings, but most of the space was dedicated to the fabrication of a cloud-like structure that hovered in midair. This suspended mist was formed by an accumulation of those crimped paper rings, some with black streaks on white ground and others with marks on a saturated black ground. They were grouped in structures of similar shades, then joined together in multi-ring modules that created a troubled volume through shadows cast on the walls and floor and the interplay of receding planes of black-on-white and white-on-black. Black elements clearly defined the back and sides of the installation (as seen from outside the gallery). These served as repoussoirs to frame the pictorial depth of the tableau and brought a darker edge to the work. The cloud conjured architectural notions of megastructures (with a style closer to Yona Friedman than Constant Nieuwenhuys) or the Blur Building of Diller, Scofidio and Renfro. It had a whimsical quality, like children’s room decorations, as well as the pragmatic edge of department-store display scenography. The use of digital photography to capture mineral textures imparted an uncanny quality to the rocks, whose surfaces are at once absolutely artificial and yet also perfect imitations of a stratified stone formation. Weirdly, they also resembled nicely stuffed cushions. The beaten and dented paper took on the appearance of fabric: a simulacrum of a beanbag projecting the simulacrum of a boulder. (Is that perverse enough?) Placed by the side of these ersatz boulders, the airborne amalgamation of paper rings evoked water cycles and cloud seeding—digital clouds pouring over dot-patterned glacial erratics.
Over the course of the exhibition, elements on the floor were moved and the cloud contracted and expanded as rings were assembled and disassembled. Dupuis-Bourret often treats galleries as extensions of her studio, continuing to work during the duration of the show in group workshops or extended solo performances. Thus her art occupies an indeterminate place between three paradigms: a studio where materials, hands and simple tools (stapler, masking tape, etc.) are deployed; an engineering space where modules and fragments are collaged and assembled in ways that question the status and solidity of art objects; and a gallery where she exploits the formalist legacy of minimalist and post-minimalist sculpture to test architectural space as site and conceptual object. At Circulaire she presented the dissolution of the solid, central object in favor of a relationship of parts within the whole.
Riffing on Henri Lefebvre’s 1974 text, La production de l’espace, Dupuis-Bourret constructed a modulated and potentially emancipatory space for play, while evoking anxieties about the validity and solidity of prefabricated environments. This is where her concerns intersect with those of Mutchler and Urban, whose array of discrete objects were only revealed in pairings or groupings; their meaning constructed through changes in viewing angles or sightlines. Both “Universal” and “La fabrication de l’espace” were invested in the materiality of print processes and studio practices while responding inventively to the specific gallery space, energizing the glass-case exhibition pod. Let us hope Circulaire builds on this promising start to take on a renewed role in Montreal’s ebullient print ecology.1
- For a detailed survey of the city print scene, see Jason Urban, “Pattern Recognition : A Letter From Montreal”, Art in Print, September-October 2013, Volume 3, Number 3, p. 23-27.