Karine Payette: L’ombre d’un doute
Presented at EXPRESSION, Centre d’exposition de Saint-Hyacinthe
Curator: Anne Philippon
With its meticulous attention to detail, Karine Payette’s work opens up numerous reflections on the different ways we perceive reality. Payette achieves this by adroitly evoking the notion of doubt. Both playful and offbeat, her universe is built up from stripped-down stagings that conjure up private, domestic stories, and scenes from everyday life. Carefully arranging objects in space, she creates “zones of anxiety” where different elements overlap: loss of control, domination, and forms that might themselves take over.
The artworks brought together in L’ombre d’un doute highlight the various touchstones of the multidisciplinary practice Karine Payette has been developing since 2010. The exhibition borrows its title from the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name (Shadow of a Doubt), where a young girl discovers the dark side of the world. This shadowy reference evokes the fragrance of mystery that wafts among Payette’s works, and the need to decipher, like a riddle, that which takes place before our eyes.
As soon as he/she enters the exhibition, the viewer is confronted with a puddle of milk covering the floor, in which he/she finds several kernels of floating Rice Krispies. This milky expanse originates from under a tilted kitchen chair, immobilized mid-fall, near a similarly free-floating bowl of cereal. This installation, L’autre dimanche matin (2012), conjures up several possible scenarios: a hasty departure triggered by a particularly good or bad piece of news, a children’s quarrel gone wrong, a domestic drama, or the tremors of an earthquake. The scene assuredly refers to the psychological state wherein humans have a sometimes uncontrollable propensity to amplify and exaggerate the importance of certain details and elements, and to dramatize normally mundane situations. Payette thus invites us to question appearances; things and events aren’t always what they seem.
The figure of the animal occupies a singular place in Payette’s practice. She often uses it as substitute for the human, symbolically translating relationships of control, power and oppression. This metaphorical strategy allows for the mimicry of human actions, and a distancing that allows us humans to observe our own behaviour. The video work L’Être aux aguets (2016) is a prime example of this strategy. In an empty and white indoor space, we see a German Shepherd obeying a long series of commands dictated by his owner from off-camera. The seemingly anecdotal scene foregrounds the ambiguous nature of training: is this an admirable model of discipline, or an example of subjugation? In this work, Payette reminds us that relationships between humans and animals are indicative of how humans interact between themselves.
Stemming from a reflection on the relationships between species, the works in Subjuguer (2016) and Entre nous IV (2016) present parts of the human body partially covered with animal scales: an arm is transformed through contact with a fish, legs are altered by the presence of a lizard. These transformations also seem to modify certain traits intrinsic to human beings. Payette sets up a form of resistance between human and animal, with the goal of inverting traditional roles, and questioning the anthropocentric attitudes that normally set us humans above nature, dominating and controlling it.
Parallaxe (2014), installed at the endpoint of the viewer’s itinerary, is the exhibition’s linchpin work, in part due to how striking it is. Made up of two videos installed back to back, the installation invites viewers to discover one screen at a time. On the first screen, we see a young gymnast holding up a torch in the style of the Olympic flame, displaying a mixed attitude of confidence and wariness. On the second screen, the crouched body of the girl is pinned to the floor by a man whose face is hidden from us. The gestures are stripped-down, executed in back and forth repetitive movements. The ambiguity of the scenes is reinforced by the concrete floor and its contrast with the gymnast’s glittering Lycra bodysuit. Our point of view changes constantly: while the camera moves around the protagonists, we move around the installation. This mise-en-abîme provokes a sensation of floating and suspension. The work speaks to social pressure and the demand to perform that society places upon us from childhood, revealing the fine line between normality and abuse of power. The title references the psychological concept whereby in observing reality from another point of view, this reality takes on a new and different meaning. The very essence of Payette’s practice can be found in this idea of the parallax: her evocative, snapshot-like images bring about shifts in reality that are incongruous and uncertain, charged with tension and the weight of what isn’t expressed.
Ambivalence runs through Karine Payette’s works, and is the common thread of the exhibition. L’ombre d’un doute is in this sense highly representative of her singular approach, and her interest in contradictory forces. The viewer recognizes what Payette calls “intermediary spaces where subjects and objects interact,
where moments frozen in time allow us get a glimpse of a before and an after, where familiarity, comfort and intimacy come face to face with the uncanny.” This swinging of the pendulum between tension and weightlessness, balance and unbalance, tranquillity and anxiety is central to Payette’s approach, and allows
the viewer to begin to grasp his/her strong feelings of attraction to the works.