Opening: Thursday, November 11, 2021 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm
Karine Giboulo : Ma Maison de plain-pied
Text by Liuba Gonzalez De Armas
Karine Giboulo’s Ma Maison de plain-pied (Eng. My Bungalow Home) connects individual lived experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic to far-reaching but often invisibilized systems of care and production. Giboulo reimagines mundane objects from her home as vessels for pandemic stories that unfold through exquisitely detailed miniature dioramas.
Each item offers a momentary glimpse into another space. A dresser drawer lined with mirrors becomes a miniature factory floor, where endless lines of uniformed masked workers toil away at industrial sewing machines. Repeating reflections render this otherwise small confined space virtually infinite, alluding to the ubiquity of the sweatshop as a contemporary site of labour extraction. Giboulo similarly transforms an Amazon delivery box, also lined with mirrors, into a vast warehouse teeming with frantic activity. Cold fluorescent lights shine down on the anonymous figures of workers hunched over miniature versions of the very package gallery visitors now see before them. Because there are no markers to situate these two sites in concrete geographical space, they come to stand for warehouse and precarious labour broadly. As self-referential containers for stories of their production and distribution, these object-dioramas connect consumers to the global systems of capital and labour extraction in which they are complicit.
Though objects from a middle-class North American home provide the framing structure for this series, the artist strategically crafts stories that draw viewers beyond the confines of home and invite them to situate themselves in direct connection with others. The exhibition’s title plays on the dual meaning of de plain-pied as both “bungalow” – in reference to the artist’s home – and “direct or straightforward”.
Other works in this exhibition address crises in long-term and elder care. Giboulo presents a series of elderly figures, each individually confined within a life-size clear glass jar. Each clear glass jar recreates the clinical sterility of a medical space by visibly isolating the figure it contains. Though their features are generic, each figure is intimately rendered with disarming detail down to the pattern on their slippers. Clad in cozy sleepwear or hospital gowns, they all wear the now iconic light blue medical-grade face masks that have come to symbolize community care in the COVID-19 pandemic era. The figures appear to wait, with certain dignified frailty, for an undisclosed outcome.
What these stories of pandemic labour and isolation share is the characteristic of being hidden from public sight. Reports of collapsing supply chains and mounting case numbers at long-term care facilities and unsafe workplaces, though pervasive, have the tendency to abstract human experience and fail to communicate the stakes and depth of emotion at the heart of these crises.
On the subject of isolation Giboulo notes that the fact of being confined in her house allowed her time to reflect on her own experience in the world. More than ever, even in isolation, she asserts, we are connected. Our existence depends on others. In holding this truth at its core, Ma Maison de plain-pied (My Bungalow Home) serves to facilitate human connection with the empathy and care for detail that characterizes Giboulo’s work.
This project is a work in progress and will continue to grow as the artist collects and transforms additional objects. An expanded form of the project will be exhibited at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto in Fall 2022. Tracing throughlines from the intimate to the social, Giboulo’s Ma Maison de plain-pied (My Bungalow Home), in all its forms, mobilizes the domestic as a vehicle to prompt dialogue about the state of the world.