Entering Sous ses yeux de pierre (Under Their Stony Eyes), a collaboration between Véronique Chagnon Côté and Élise Lafontaine installed at the Forest City Gallery from February 25th to April 7th, we have ten pieces seen panoramically clockwise:
The Door, an acrylic and acrylic transfer on wood panel depicting a darkened room’s perspectivally askew window giving on to an ambiguous sunlit courtyard or foyer, which appears to be part line-drawing—an incompletely manifested blueprint of sorts—in which encaged roses and the open fan of a set of angelic wings provide the sole organic lines amid various geometric figures (a gazebo’s tilted skeleton; a geodetically fenestrated nook giving on to a darkened room doorwayed; a fragment of an exquisite metope);
The Serviceberry Branch (1), an acrylic-on-wood-panel rendering of a veinous, leafed serviceberry branch suspended by hooped wire at eye level from its darkened stem;
Two Intertwined Sisters, a bifurcated, translucent-blue thistle and the second of three acrylic-on-wood-panel pieces hanging separately in a kind of disconsolate bouquet;
The Forget-me-nots, the third of these, a clutch of luminous thistles drawn together through their dark green stems with a ribbon;
Lombrives, an enormous, 142 x 252cm oil-on-linen staggering of colour—the sole contribution of Élise Lafontaine to the collaborative exhibition—which looks essentially like one kaleidoscopic still from a dragonfly’s perspective of the interior base of a brightly multi-coloured flower’s stamen (and is included immediately below in tacit acknowledgement of the insufficiency of language to describe it);
The Serviceberry Branch (II), hanging alike in kind to its aforementioned counterpart in the corner to the right of that refulgence of colour;
The Sister Bouquets, an acrylic-on-wood-panel nearly identical pair of lush, dun- and maroon-coloured autumnal bouquets fastened about their waists with lace ribbon and appearing to touch hands at the mirroring divide between them;
The Lost Landscape, the first of two acrylic-and-acrylic-transfer-on-wood-panel pieces reminiscent of The Door and arranged in proximate diptych and depicting, again slightly askew, a half-circle archway filigreed with unenacted architectural suggestions and framed by Tuscan columns framing, behind transparent seagreen glass, a snow-covered, mountainous vista with evergreens;
The Hand, an acrylic and acrylic transfer on wood panel depicting what appears to be a backyard’s perspective on the house from which the earlier pieces derive divided by a translucent blue window pane standing from left fore- to right middle-ground through which a great geodesic stone hand, palm skyward, is seen to be engardened with roses and thistles;
and The Nymphaeum, an enfractaled and impossibly lattice-shadowed acrylic and acrylic transfer on wood panel framing another flowerful and partially arched backyard ensconced in polyrhythmic geometries (which I have included at the foot of this review in deference to its defiance of description).
Both educated in Montréal—Côté through a BFA in Visual Arts and Media at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) then Concordia for an MFA in Studio Arts, Painting & Drawing; Lafontaine in Museology at Collège Montmorency at Laval, a BFA in Studio Arts at Concordia, and an MA in Visual Arts & Media at UQAM—the artists write of this exhibition that they “propose a reflexion about our relationship with space. If the first gesture from architectural space is to welcome our body, how is it experienced? Through metaphorical reflection, their work combines desires and vision of architecture to producing representations of places lived, dreamed or speculated.”
Of course, the spelling of “reflexion” both as such and as “reflection” and the use of “producing” in the last of those sentences come from the original French through the side door of the English; and one might immediately assume the translation is direct and without consultation with the anglogrammar I’ve festooned with knots to this point. But there’s also a kind of dreamy quality to that summary, a slight syntactic ambiguity to the phrasing—“If the first gesture from architectural space is to welcome our body, how is it experienced?”—which matches the exhibition, in its way: The everywhere filigree of enpencilled architectural guidelines throughout Côté’s work suggest the work is, in some ways—and in contrast to instances of exquisite, even masterful detail—half-imagined, or, if you’d prefer, half-dreamt, akin in space to the swirling translucence and precise geometry of a dream partially inhabited at waking. The twinned and self-mirroring Sister Bouquets, too, conjure that state of the in-between, one foot in the real and another in the elsewhere uncannily.
Writes Tatem Dooley in their essayistic, installation-accompanying text, “Seeing the Unseen,” “[These] paintings become a conduit for misplaced memories and projected daydreams.” And, in another possible lapse in language, across the interior of the cover page and onto the insert in the pamphlet in which the text appears, so read the lines: “The gallery becomes a courtyard inside the belly of the house. You can imagine walking into the paintings and looking around. The slightly disjointed, surreal spaces [page break] surreal spaces depicted by Chagnon Côté replicate the feeling of walking through a space for the first time.” The thought is finely expressed, to be sure, but its medial slip—or intentional repetition?—like those in the original French summary begets a sense of the partial suspension of reality, a lapse caused as if by the fold in time a dream can be, adding to the kind of mirage that hangs about this exhibition. Or perhaps it’s just that I’m writing these words while listening to the binaural drone of 40Hz in a café in Wortley Village by whose exit sit two elderly gentlemen I’ve never seen before playing chess on a vinyl tournament board with exquisitely hand-carved, overlarge pieces and a numberless chess clock between them as if on loan from a poem of John Ashbery’s.
Nevertheless, explains Lafontaine, “It’s important to remember that for painters, the fabric is the first material of our foundations. It is with this material that we create a physical space and emotional space, space of illusion. In this exhibition, we want to create this sensation of intimacy and the meeting between different places which invites intimacy with its own body.” Like bedsheets or a gyroscope, that intimacy requires two-ness, a friction between the manifest and the unmanifest, the generative liminal, a kind of daydreamt tulpa, the in-between sous ses yeux de pierre.
Kevin Andrew Heslop sits. Debut: the correct fury of your why is a mountain (Gordon Hill Press, Fall 2021). Lately: six feet | between us (McIntosh Gallery, Winter 2022), Revelations: Gathie Falk (Centred Magazine, Winter 2023). New this year with: The League of Canadian Poets (Spring), Westland Gallery/Gordon Hill Press (Summer), Rose Garden Press/Green Field Paper/Astoria Pictures (Summer), The Devil’s Artisan (Winter).