Quebec has a way of valorizing its artists not found elsewhere in Canada, and its poets are no exception. They come with their own mythologies. Take Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, a man better looking than Robert Pattinson, who changed the course of Québécois poetry before dying young, and still beautiful, at the age of 31. Or look at the photo of Sylvain Garneau, jauntily holding a well-cut jacket over his shoulder, a year before he killed himself at the age of 23.
Of all the legendary figures, however, Émile Nelligan stands out the most. Brilliant, tortured, and precocious, he dashed out some visionary poetry before going insane at the age of 20 and living out the remaining 40 years of his life in an institution, never to write again. Sound something like Arthur Rimbaud? In photographs, Nelligan even looks like Rimbaud, who, in his own photos, never really looks like Rimbaud at all.
Nelligan’s life was tragic and, ultimately, uneventful, but his story has attained a certain glamour, and glamour can be exploited. Thus the upcoming exhibition “Nelligan seen by Elisabetta Fantone”, in its very strangeness, perhaps captures something true about contemporary Quebec culture, its roots in history, and its aesthetic firmly rooted in Hollywood. Hosted at the luxurious Hotel Nelligan in the Old Port, the exhibition features paintings done by Quebec portraitist Fantone in response to various poems by Nelligan.
Who is Fantone, though? Well, she’s “Italian by birth, but a citizen of the world,” according to her website elisabetta.ca, which features, in addition to her portraits, dozens of glamour-shots of Fantone in stilettos and precious little else. In addition to doing portraits of the Kardashian sisters, Fantone has found time to be a pop singer, model, and star on Québécois reality show Loft Story.
The exhibition is, surprisingly, free, and provides an opportunity to see Québécois culture of today looking back to Quebecois culture of yesteryear, and the results are bound to be weird. Perhaps worth a look, though.
Nelligan seen by Elisabetta Fantone starts at the Hotel Nelligan, 106 St. Paul O, on September 14th. It is part of the larger Nelligan seen by… project.