Culture | Dissent on display

Galerie de l’UQAM exhibits privileged opposition

The sound of footsteps cracking a hundred glitter-filled eggs signaled the opening of the Galerie de l’UQAM’s exhibition “The Disorderliness of Things,” a multi-artist exposition centered around the themes of disobedience and subversion. Marie-Ève Charron and Thérèse St-Gelais curated the exhibit in the context of the 2012 student protests, seeking to continue the conversation on defying authority that began with those public displays of dissent. With works by both local and international artists, past and present, the exhibit’s nebulous theme allows for flexibility both in terms of media and message.

As attendees tracked glitter and eggshells into the exhibit space, artists Arkadi Lavoie Lachapelle and Audrey Racicot stayed to sweep up. Titled Parlons d’œufs!, this entrance piece is based on a similar 2010 installation where eggs filled with glitter were placed in front of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, forcing visitors to step on them. At Galerie de l’UQAM, the glitter sets the tone for this artistic display of dissent. The video compilation of reactions to the 2010 installation, on display at the UQAM exhibit, draw out the metaphorical implications of a notoriously uncontrollable substance penetrating such an established institution.

“The Disorderliness of Things” subverts a limited set of contexts which are only accessible to the more privileged members of society – the corporatized workplace, higher education, suburban parenthood, and the bourgeois art world.

Video art features prominently in the exhibit, and in the case of Finnish artist Pilvi Takala’s mixed-media installation The Trainee, videos provide an almost voyeuristic peek at dissent. The set-up alludes to an office setting. Multiple videos of the artist’s brief employment at Deloitte’s Helsinki office play all at once, juxtaposed with internal emails from co-workers reacting to the artist’s passive refusal to work. Inviting viewers to watch dissent unfold close-up, the installation creates a gripping experience. An effective commentary on today’s office culture and the growing corporatization and standardization of work, The Trainee acts as a destabilizing voice of protest.

A similarly witty voice of protest, Michel de Broin’s video Le Procès/The Trial dominates the gallery space. De Broin’s video shows a courtroom simulated inside a Manhattan subway car. De Broin hired actors to defend and prosecute Mr. Trevor Baldwin, a fictitious performance artist charged with breaking the law. The setting lends the piece its absurdist and critical voice, forcing the law into a space where it loses its credibility and authority. At one point in the piece, a subway performer interrupts the courtroom proceedings with song and dance. In this way, under the harsh fluorescent lights of the C train, the piece reduces both the law and the performer to farcical caricatures of themselves, parading around the subway car for approval and spare change.

Montreal artist Christine Major, for example, boldly subverts traditional gender roles in her two looming depictions of men and women in paradoxically gendered poses – but stays firmly within the confines of white, North American, middle-class identities.

While the pieces on exhibit are cleverly orchestrated, it is also clear that the gallery targets a specific audience. “The Disorderliness of Things” subverts a limited set of contexts which are only accessible to the more privileged members of society – the corporatized workplace, higher education, suburban parenthood, and the bourgeois art world. Furthermore, “Disorderliness” hesitates to take aim at art as an institution in and of itself. Shying away from from self-criticism, the curators instead display their take on what dissent and subversion ‘look like.’

Montreal artist Christine Major, for example, boldly subverts traditional gender roles in her two looming depictions of men and women in paradoxically gendered poses – but stays firmly within the confines of white, North American, middle-class identities. While her goal may have been to destabilize the familiar, her assertion of what is ‘familiar’ for the viewer recreates the very authoritarian space that the exhibit seeks to challenge.

The exhibit makes tentative forays into more fringe aspects of society – see Catherine Opie’s self-portrait with sadomasochistic scars – but overall “Disorderliness” feels safe, insulated, and white-dominated. The result is a singularly-faceted and borderline exclusionary exhibition. Still, the artists included create dissent in imaginative ways which will at the very least keep viewers talking and thinking about subversion, beyond the Maple Spring.


“The Disorderliness of Things” is open until Saturday, February 21 at the Galerie de l’UQAM.

 


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