Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Barbara Claus at Diagonale, Montréal

Where to begin,
‘I am old , I am slow and other digressions’
What of using this blog as my public journal?

‘je suis vieille, je suis lente et autres digressions’,
is the name of an exhibition by Montréal based artist
Barbara Claus at Diagonale centre d’Artistes,
5455 de Gaspé, Montréal.

I happen to know that Barbara Claus is about
10 years younger than me, so her title caught me off guard.
I wondered if things had been rough for her lately.
I went to see her show anticipating a bit
of a smack up the side of my happy face.

Claus chose to take a pass on the traditional opening/vernissage.
The exhibition is open during regular gallery hours and if you want
to talk to the artist about the work you can make an appointment 
any day between 8 and 6 to meet, talk and share a cup of tea.

On entering the gallery my attention was pulled to the south
wall. The wall painted brown almost black, is covered
in white chalk writing with a small neon sign attached, lower left.
The neon reads je suis vieille (I am old) and the chalk writing reads
je suis vieille over and over, je suis vielle, je suis vieille.
During her exhibition Claus will keep writing/drawing on the wall,
the words massing into dense forms in some parts, open and
threadlike in others. It makes me think that ' I am old '
is an ever changing state.

In a similar way the west wall has been approached as a
site-specific work. This neon reads ‘je suis morte’ ( I am dead).
A different wall, a different place - being dead, feels more static,
with a rough surface, a bit edgy.

On the north wall 17, 22” x 30 ” drawings are hung with magnets.
These drawings, developed through the same writing/drawing technique
as the 'je suis vieille' wall.

In the enclosed corner space of the east wall the words,
‘je suis foutue’* ( I am fucked ) are cut into the drywall with a router.
The drywall dust lies on the floor below. All white on white in this corner.
Near the door there is a notice posted on the wall.
I didn’t see it until I was on my way out.

Avertissement - It is a warning to gallery visitors.

The warning en français explains that this exhibition is intended for a mature audience.
Advising artists and curators under 35 that they may be shocked or disturbed by the fact that no funding was received in the making of this work.

Barbara Claus is speaking the unspeakable. Since the big awards (RBC, Sobey. etc.) for artists under 35 have been introduced I’ve had wistful conversations with many artists well past 35, wondering where those awards were when we were that age. It is something that you keep to yourself as it sounds a bit like sour grapes, to even say it out loud.
But here is Barbara Claus not just saying it out loud but digging it into the walls of the gallery 
‘I am fucked’.

Ironically the opposite feeling bursts through this exhibition. It is an act of willful intent. There is an honesty and a freedom here that I think may have been thwarted had there been a line running across the bottom of the invitation thanking the Conseil des Arts du Canada et le Conseil des arts des letters du Quebec for their financial support.

It is a refreshing experience to come upon something so heartfelt,
spoken with a mature and celebratory voice. It couldn’t have happened when Claus
was under 35 and it wouldn’t have happened had she received funding for this

Now, I hope that she sells some of those beautiful drawings to pay for her freedom,
and her next exhibition.

* when I asked Barbara Claus for her translation of je suis foutue
   she said  “I am done
                   I am finished
                   I am fucked ….. or something like that….!”

Exhibition Continues Until December 13th 2012


photos Guy L'heureux