In this Maple Spring, with student protests in la belle province routinely making the front page news, the word "manifestation" echoes in the streets of Montreal, Victoriaville, and Quebec City. In the latter, though, there is also a manifestation that brings everybody together, a manifestation that is pure art and pure joy: La Manif d'Art aka the Quebec City Biennale. This year the main venue is Espace 400e Bell and a vast improvement on the last biennale's exhibition space (but let's not dwell on the past). Curator Nicole Gingras has accomplished a delicate balancing act this time around in putting together an important body of artworks that expands through time (much of the work is time-based and durational) and space (more than fifteen venues in the official selection, not to mention fifteen more satellite activities). She happily mixes kinetics and robotics, high and low-tech works, the old and the new. She has even managed to cater to a large public without compromising the quality of this event.
This 6th edition of the Manif was launched on May 3 as visitors were invited to embark on an art itinerary around the theme of Machines – The Shapes of Movement. The crux of Gingras' curatorial statement is that machines are indistinguishable from movement, and without movement, we die. Our lives are filled with machines and devices designed to simplify, transform, and sometimes even distort our relation to reality and to the world. We use some of them so much and so often that they become part of us. We even adapt our movements to their use. Machines sometimes mimic the mechanics of our bodies; other times they make a mockery of it. Creators, thinkers, and artists have been fascinated by machines and have dreamt of their shapes and concepts for centuries.
As I approached the exhibition, I somehow felt I was entering the belly of the beast, soon to unveil the hidden mechanisms of machines of every scale. This happened right away. On seeing Ian Farley's larger than life piece, OPUS S1-11 (beta 1.0), I was reminded of a strange alien creature craning its long neck and a musical instrument blowing soft and mysterious sounds. The face is of a woman, her eyes follow us: the machine is human. Further on, Arthur Gasson's small and delicate mechanisms, full of poetry, fascinate in a slightly different way; these organic pieces recall in isolation the movements of the human body.
Joseph Herscher, The Page Turner
Gingras made the most of pairing some artists - like Rube Goldberg with Joseph Herscher - to reflect and build on their commonalities. Goldberg's enchanting cartoons from the early part of the 20th Century portrayed whimsical inventions of absurd and complex machines designed to execute specific actions like catching a burglar or lighting a gas oven. Often using an animal as part of the mechanism, Goldberg illustrated the occasional absurdity of the machine. To mirror these drawings, a video shows kinetic artist Joseph Herscher's installation entitled The Page Turner. Herscher, obviously a student of Goldberg's work, has put together a very complex device that aims to complete the simple task of turning the pages of his newspaper. The result is a pure delight!
Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag, GAMMAvert - a X-SEA-SCAPES
These light and playful pieces are counterbalanced by more potent work such as GAMMAvert - a X-SEA-SCAPES from the Berlin-based Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag. The artist has assembled a work that presents a poetic and scientific confluence through the combination of a Geiger counter hanging in front of a picture of Chernobyl, an impossible green light filling your head, and vibrations digging into the core of your being. This powerful and disturbing installation leaves you shaking.
Martin Tétreault, détail de l'installation Phonographes vinylisés, 2012
As the Manif d'Art strings you along from display to display, each work seems even more interesting than the last. Favourites of the realm of Canadian kinetic art like Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Manon Labrecque, and Diane Landry contribute characteristic clicking, whirring, and wired devices. They, along with Martin Tétreault's must-see Phonographes vinylisés, are among the highlights of the Biennale, but there is so much great work you're best to discover it for yourself.
The Biennale also offers master classes, audio art concerts, and so many other events, that you should plan your visit in advance. Visitors can access a phone application to coordinate their itinerary or use the very user-friendly printed program. The biennale organizers also offer three different routes through the exhibition, ranging from three to four hours. All in all this manifestation is a gift, an occasion to step out of dreary daily patterns into art, fantasy, and dream.
Claude Chevalot lives in Quebec City. She is a freelance writer/translator of works of fiction for adults and children, texts for artists and exhibitions, and various pieces for magazines and the radio. She also edits her own blog on contemporary art. She is Akimblog's Quebec City correspondent.
Manif d'Art: http://www.manifdart.org/
The Quebec City Biennale continues until June 3.
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