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Tammer El-Sheikh
Chloe Lum & Yannick Desranleau at CIRCA Art Actuel
June 07, 2017

In Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black, Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau describe the predicament of being in and with our bodies. Their exhibition at CIRCA Art Actuel includes a two-channel video featuring contemporary dancers in ten sketches and a gallery for the video’s surreal backdrops and fleshy, wearable sculptures. These elements present as “organs without bodies” or “bodies without organs” – illustrations of post-humanist philosophies with which the artists are deeply engaged. In quietly eloquent sketches Lum, Desranleau, and their collaborators show how bodies become conspicuous and known precisely when we are betrayed by them.

Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau, Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black, 2016-2017, two channel 4K digital video with sound (103 minutes)

Toward the end of Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections, an aging patriarch suffering from Parkinson’s searches in vain for a belt buckle to remove his soiled pants. In this frustrated moment, Alfred Lambert is “a person in two dimensions seeking freedom in a third.” The description is apt for Lum and Desranleau’s work as well. The video’s first sketch, titled It, follows dancer Winnie Ho as she lowers herself onto one hand and knee under the weight of a baggy white and flesh-coloured polymer vest. Somewhere between a space-aged poncho, a shedding synthetic skin, and a girdle for giants, the vest wobbles and falls over the dancer in slow motion. A disembodied voice breaks through the droning soundtrack to describe a “connected” but troubled relationship to It: “too personal to share…its value surpasses measures… people say be careful with it (but) it doesn’t need preciousness… I know it because I messed with it.”

In another sketch, dancer Anouk Theriault brings this obscure knowledge of the body to bear on a protagonist named Julie. Her story is given in a fragmentary narrative that is part-medical case history and part-personal journal. As we hear about Julie’s abdominal pain Theriault churns in an off-white spandex tube with three red sleeves – two for the arms and one for a phantom limb. While “pain killers don’t work,” objects “pressed against the body” or extending it into space provide some relief. Theriault’s spandex suit and other curiosities are retrieved from the folds of a pale tarp hanging on the wall behind her. Held open by a bright-pink element in the shape of a blindfold, the tarp and its contents take on the character of a dreamer or an insomniac. Significantly, this is the only sketch in which a character is named. If it can’t be fully redeemed, Julie’s pain at least harbours an individuating power.

In Gatherer human/non-human relationships are described as a kinship among “things.” Dancer Leelee Davis paces back and forth across the set surveying its hanging sculptures before fixing on a shiny black body suit. She approaches it slowly with the trepidation and curiosity that attend any new encounter. Closing her eyes, she brings the suit to rest against her torso and then lets it slide off her arms to the floor. As though a Sisyphean burden had been laid down, Davis pauses for a moment over the sculpture’s pink inner surface to trace its voids ritualistically. The narrator provides some insight into the dancer’s game of catch-and-release: “There is something right and satisfying about taking things… feminine things, queer things, every-thing.”

Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau, exhibition view (from left to right): Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black (Stretching Figure), 2017, and Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black (Elements), 2016-2017

For this work and an earlier iteration of it, the artists cast non-binary or femme-identified dancers and people of colour. The dancers’ interactions with mostly black, white and flesh-coloured sculptures read as a kind of role-play with culturally coded materials. Where Deborah Dunn, a fair-skinned dancer seems to draw fortitude from a heavy black body suit, the multi-racial Davis collapses under its weight. We are invited to consider these differences and the politics of visibility they reveal within and beyond the dance milieu. The artists question a strictly biological or functionalist view of the body and a constructivist view of the body as marked by signs of class, race, and gender. Both views advance able-bodiedness and visibility as the most important aspects of personal identity. By contrast Lum’s and Desranleau’s view of the body, of people, and of things is non-normative and fluid. They explore the indiscipline and messiness of the body, its groping and leaking, its failings and infirmity, but also its resilience. Critical disability scholar Michael Davidson suggests a program for this in his book on differently-abled experiences of art titled Concerto for the Left Hand. Like Lum and Desranleau, he urges us to think of more inclusive and empathetic approaches to the humanities that might begin with “an armless Venus de Milo, a crippled Oedipus,” or the phantom double of Leonardo’s Vitruvian man: “a figure who after all has four arms and four legs.”

CIRCA Art Actuel:
Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau: Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black continues until June 17.

Tammer El-Sheikh is a writer and teacher based in Montreal. His art criticism has appeared in Parachute, Canadian Art, ETC and C Magazine.



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