Vital Signs





 
Curated by DisplayCult and Colette Tougas
Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montreal
March 30-May 20, 2000



Artists:
Vital Signs: Bosses, Kevin Ei-ichi deForest, Jean Dubois, Wendy Jacob, Natalie Jeremijenko, Naomi London, Sandra Rechico, Claire Savoie, Chrysanne Stathacos.

Sentience Performance Salon: Pierre Beaudoin, Diane Borsato, Kevin Ei-ichi deForest, Valerie Lamontagne, Naomi London, Chrysanne Stathacos.
  Vital Signs explored how the non-visual senses are being both interrogated and reconceived in contemporary artistic practice. This exhibition -- held in conjunction with the international conference, "Uncommon Senses: An International Conference on the Senses in Art and Culture," at Concordia University -- featured artworks that addressed the subtle but powerful links between the senses, lived experience and aesthetic meaning.

The title, "Vital Signs,” held two metaphorical dimensions: one medical, the other semiotic. This exhibition took the pulse of a certain type of contemporary art that exemplified a shift in sensibility toward the experiential. The artists engaged in a phenomenological aesthetics that favored direct sensory experience yet also provided challenges to social and cultural assumptions about perception. While the non-visual senses may appear to operate “transparently” in perception, there is a politics of the senses at work which raise issues about how connections are formed involving the body, history, memory, representation and culture.

Vital Signs also referred to conventions of interpreting and responding to artworks in exclusively visual or linguistic terms. The uniquely mutable status of artworks incorporating the non-visual senses calls for a new conceptual framework that can articulate how they function simultaneously as a material and an idea, a stimulus and a sign, an object to be interacted with and one that is transformed in the very act of apprehension. In other words, they are signs with vital properties that confound habits of the detachment and distance characteristic of traditional aesthetics.

For a fuller text, see Jim Drobnick, Jennifer Fisher and Colette Tougas, “Vital Signs: Curatorial Statement,” Material History Review, Summer 2001, pp. 75-6.
 
Bosses, À vos risques et périls, 2000.
Site-specific installation / installation in situ, wood, metal and plastic.
 
Composed of Éric Daoust, Donald Potvin and Jean-François Potvin, Bosses is an architectural collaborative that practices an “architecture of proximity” and foregrounds the experiential qualities of the built environment. Creating psychologically charged spaces from heterogeneous combinations of wood, metal, plastic, concrete and other materials (both new and recycled), their site-specific installations dislodge conventional notions of architecture as mere “shelter” or “background.” Highlighting the senses of texture, proprioception and kinæsthesis, as well as subtle visual illusions, their work transforms the object status of buildings into an immersive stage for visitors’ play and discovery.
  Bosses, À vos risques et périls, 2000.
Site-specific installation / installation in situ, wood, metal and plastic.
Kevin Ei-ichi deForest

Disco Tatami, 1998-99.
Turntables, lights, styrofoam, wood, fabric.

Karaoke Bench Mixer, 1998-99.
Interactive audio sculpture, wood, vinyl, straw mat.
   
Returning to Montreal after a two-year stay in Japan, Kevin Ei-ichi deForest’s work examines the senses, especially sound, from a cross-cultural perspective. Utilising traditional and postmodern items characteristically associated with Japanese culture–tatami mats, karaoke machines, plastic food displays, pachinko–deForest explores the politics of identity through its mediation by communications technology and the materiality of everyday life.
  Kevin Ei-ichi deForest, Disco Tatami, 1998-99.
Turntables, lights, styrofoam, wood, fabric.
  Kevin Ei-ichi deForest, Karaoke Bench Mixer, 1998-99.
Interactive audio sculpture, wood, vinyl, straw mat.
Jean Dubois, Egographie, 1999.
Interactive computer installation.
   
Jean Dubois’ computer installations operate at the increasingly blurred boundary between the body and technology. Using touch-screens and intimate bodily imagery, Dubois challenges viewers with interface experiences that are poetic, humorous and surreal. Intensifying and defusing the feeling of disembodiment normally associated with computer interactions, his works centre upon notions of the self embedded in logical and illogical information networks.
  Jean Dubois, Egographie, 1999.
Interactive computer installation.
Wendy Jacob, Squeeze Chaise Longue, 1998.
Mohair, wood, hardware, pneumatic system with pumps and hoses.
   
The interactive furniture sculptures of Wendy Jacob require the audience to be both aggressive and submissive, the controller of another’s experience and passive recipient. No longer merely functional or decorative, her “squeeze” chairs and sofas engage the sense of touch but connote meanings at opposite ends of the psycho-social spectrum–they are simultaneously sadistic and therapeutic.
  Wendy Jacob, Squeeze Chaise Longue, 1998.
Mohair, wood, hardware, pneumatic system with pumps and hoses.
Natalie Jeremijenko, Voice Boxes, 1995.
Interactive audio sculpture.
   
Working at the crossroads of art and engineering, Natalie Jeremijenko conducts experiments into the merging of the biological and technological. Her works range from critiques of the politics of science to playful, impractical inventions (she has worked for the Bureau of Inverse Technology). This interactive sculpture allows viewers to record audio segments and combine them like building blocks for others to listen to.
  Natalie Jeremijenko, Voice Boxes, 1995.
Interactive audio sculpture.
Naomi London, Marmalade Wall, 2000.
Site-specific mural of oranges, pectin, sugar.
   
Naomi London’s work has consistently investigated aspects of women’s everyday culture. From knitting to recipe-sharing, from diary writing to the ways in which knowledge is passed from one generation to another, London’s focus on the products and process of domestic labour contains elements that are both celebratory and subtly critical. Her contribution here reflects a current interest in food – the creation of a monumental 48-foot wall of marmalade.
  Naomi London, Marmalade Wall, 2000.
Site-specific mural of oranges, pectin, sugar.
Sandra Rechico

Shards II, 1997-2000. Installation with broken glass.

Distended, 2000.
Yarn, ducting, cotton stuffing spices (with cloves, ginger, lavender, etc.).
   
Sandra Rechico creates environments that confront viewers with extremes of pleasure and pain. Shards consisted of a floor covered in broken glass, upon which intrepid viewers could walk. Other works implicate the body viscerally, in both real and symbolic manners. Her installation of a forest of soft, organic stalactites not only alludes to intestinal windings, but are scented with herbs utilized in aromatherapeutic treatments of digestive disorders.
  Sandra Rechico, Shards II, 1997-2000.
Installation with broken glass.
  Sandra Rechico, Distended, 2000.
Yarn, ducting, cotton stuffing spices (with cloves, ginger, lavender, etc.).
Claire Savoie, Mon coeur, 2000.
Audio installation.
   
Claire Savoie explores the notion of synaesthesia through sound and visual installations that map mental and physical experience. The audio installation presented here contrasts the white cube with the experiential fullness of the home. Filling the gallery with intermittent sonic bursts – recordings taken from domestic activities – this installation haunts the space with all that is customarily repressed: the body, notions of comfort, attention to survival needs, mortality.
  Claire Savoie, Mon coeur, 2000.
Audio installation.
Chrysanne Stathacos

The Wish Machine, 1999, vending machine, aromatic oils.

The Aura Project, 1999.
Series of 12 C-prints.
   
Chrysanne Stathacos is represented by two works. The Wish Machine is a conventional vending machine transformed into a purveyor of dream-fulfilling aromatic oils. Drawing from the folk culture of rural India, and wryly satirizing the promises of panacea typically offered by Western commercial products, the sculpture addresses the belief in scent’s mythological properties to assuage and cure, as well as its provocative powers to evoke fantasy and transcendence. The second work is a series of photographs, taken by a newly-developed technology that records an individual’s particular “aura.” Going beyond the limits of the traditional five senses, Stathacos’ inquiry into paranormal experiences seeks not only to question the politics of its marginalization but also to explore its æsthetic possibilities.
 
  Chrysanne Stathacos, The Wish Machine, 1999.
Vending machine, aromatic oils.
  Chrysanne Stathacos, The Aura Project, 1999.
Series of 12 C-prints.
 
Sentience: Performance Salon
 

Pierre Beaudoin, Gazon fraîchement tondu (“Fresh Cut Grass”), 2000.
Performance (with the assistance of Sylvie Tourangeau).
   
The performances of Pierre Beaudoin emphasize the vulnerability of the body and its unstable relationship to objects, architecture and space. Noted for featuring the fragility of the body in discomforting environments, he explores the limits of physical and psychic unease, investigating what happens to notions of equilibrium when confronted with intense emotions and corporeal shocks. With Gazon fraîchement tondu (“Fresh Cut Grass”), Beaudoin engaged in an aromatically-enhanced endurance performance.
  Pierre Beaudoin, Gazon fraîchement tondu (“Fresh Cut Grass”), 2000.
Performance still.
Diane Borsato, Available for Dancing, 2000.
Performance (with Jo-Anne Balcean, Clark Ferguson, David Oxley and Kelly Wood).
   
Diane Borsato has worked extensively with food and food-related materials, especially in regard to their emotional and cultural investments. She has served cheesecake, told jokes and eaten romantic dinners with viewers in seductive installations and performances. Her work here focused on touch, love, and in reinventing the experience of the everyday. Available for Dancing invited visitors to engage with a cadre of formally dressed male and female suitors -- for a foxtrot lesson, to relive a memorable celebration, or to engage in kinaesthetic flirtation.
  Diane Borsato, Available for Dancing, 2000.
Performance still.

Kevin Ei-ichi deForest, Hybrid Mimic Performance (MC5/Nakajima Miyuki), 2000.
Performance (with Bertie Mandelblatt).
   
Kevin Ei-ichi deForest's engagement with aural cultures applies to the full range of musical and noise phenomena. His audio-sculptures foreground the differences between traditional and postmodern sensibilities, natural and urbanized soundscapes. Working at the crossroads of Japanese and Western identities, his performance, Hybrid Mimic Performance (MC5/Nakajima Miyuki), attempted to negotiate, via the juxtaposition of incongruous musical styles, generational and cultural difference.  

Valerie Lamontagne, Sensorial Overload Clinic, 2000.
Performance.
   
Working with and against the North American cultural obsession with therapy, advice and self-help techniques, Valerie Lamontagne has performed as an artist-consultant for personal and artistic problems. Here she operated a Sensorial Overload Clinic which attended to conferencegoers’ sensory rehabilitation needs. Registered Sense Nurses™ dispensed remedies for overstimulated noses, eyes, ears, etc., and suggested helpful techniques to manage and properly maintain one’s senses.
  Valerie Lamontagne, Sensorial Overload Clinic, 2000.
Performance still.

Naomi London, mmm... (Marmalade Tasting), 2000.
Performance.
In accord with her monumental mural in the Gallery, Naomi London enacted a tasting event that featured her signature medium -- marmalade. Her performance, mmm... (Marmalade Tasting), presented edible souvenirs. Referencing supermarket cheese samplings, baking competitions at county fairs, and recipe-exchanging among family and friends, London’s offering of confectionary morsels combined process-oriented performance with the dynamics of sharing food.
Naomi London, mmm... (Marmalade Tasting), 2000.
Performance still.
Chrysanne Stathacos, Aura Photographs, 2000.
Performance (with the assistance of Diyan Achjadi).
   
While Chrysanne Stathacos’ “aura photographs” were on display in the Gallery, her performance offered visitors the chance to have their aura recorded by a specially equipped camera. By metamorphosizing an individual’s heart rate, temperature and electromagnetic field into a unique and colourful image, Stathacos’ portraits utilized innovative technology to extend the limits of vision and explore paranormal science, New Age spirituality, and Eastern esoteric philosophy.
  Chrysanne Stathacos, Aura Photographs, 2000.
Performance still.
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