Opening reception: Saturday, September 8 from 3-5pm
Hope is Greater than Fear
Text by Amber Berson
In 1970, the American artist John Baldessari burnt all his canvases and kept the ashes as artwork. A year later, he created the participative, performance work I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art. Similarly inspired, Montreal-based artist Simon Bilodeau ‘destroys’ his artwork and then displays the results in the gallery.
Where Baldessari was wiping the slate clean, starting new as a reaction to capitalism, Bilodeau is more interested in presenting a tableau vivant of panoptic power. Bilodeau does not see the process as that of destruction. Like an alchemist, he is transforming matter, creating a more powerful product. His subject is fear and destruction itself, and his practise explores ideas of power signifiers and our tenacious understanding of authority. Compared to Baldessari, who destroyed everything to start over at zero, Bilodeau works with ashes. Ultimately, the art is the ashes.
Where earlier work played with the notion of artist as authority figure, playfully manipulating signatures as a means to represent authorship through branding as a manifestation of power-play, this new show presents a grimmer depiction of power. An eagle outstretched which at once conjures the Nazi party, American patriotism, and also, First Nations imagery, is built up from shards of broken mirror. The audience is confronted by immediate and overwhelming symbols of imperialism. Further in the gallery, a large grey flag. The flag itself is a means of communication, at first used on military battlefields and then as a general means of signalling and identifying, and act specifically as patriotic symbols. However, the grey in Bilodeau’s flag, although reminiscent of the black flags of the anarchist movement, or even the Jolly Roger,1 is empty, resonating no meaning other than that which the viewer prescribes.
While it acts to cast a somber tone over the gallery, serving a reminder of the authority, power and magic that permeates the exhibit, the conflict which Bilodeau presents is both imaginary and omnipresent. Instead of naming specific wars, Bilodeau’s oeuvre speaks to the idea of conflict in general. Coupled with the burnt canvasses from his previous exhibitions, the rest of the exhibit seems to resemble an archeological dig – presenting traces of conflict within our day to day existence. Building on these ruins, Bilodeau offers a voice of dissonance – a breath of fight against the oppression and violence of our culture of fear. While dark, Bilodeau’s art is hopeful.
The strongest act of resistance is to believe and to hope. To educate, to discuss and to (visually) demonstrate ones dissent or disapproval are exceptionally useful tactics. Bilodeau harnesses hope (which is perhaps a synonym for remembering) to take steps towards an art in which we can see, rising from the ashes, a glimmer of a future beyond fear.
1. And today, of the red flags that hang in the windows and door frames of Québec as symbols of the Maple Spring, our own homegrown revolution against capitalism and greed.