Culture | Imaging imagination

Parisian Laundry exhibit revisits childhood in St. Henri

To appreciate Adrienne Spier’s Grade and Jennifer Lefort’s Make-Believe, exhibits at Parisian Laundry, one must view them with the imagination of a child and leave the cynicism of art criticism at home. Parisian Laundry celebrates this past October’s Women’s History Month with Spier’s foray into discarded materials and Lefort’s fluid abstraction. As Spier fascinates us with the artistic genius of mundane school desk scribbles, Lefort’s paintings feel something like cloud watching during recess.

A mixture of found objects and photography, Spier’s Grade concerns itself with all that society has thrown into the trash. She revives value from what Western culture discards, creating meaning in the everyday wood objects that stockpile and organize pieces of our personality.

Almost reaching the twenty-foot ceilings of the gallery, “Floorboard” recognizes the memories and marks made on what was once a kitchen or living room floor. By stacking floorboards on top of eachother, we can see the effect we have on the hard materials of our surrounding. Nicks, spilled wine, that time Dad dropped that heavy pan… Our subconscious runs free, remembering the events on our own floors and seeing in Spier’s work the detailed histories of every piece of wood.

Spier continues this concept in “3 Bedroom Apartment,” a tableau of deconstructed furniture. The individual pieces are a dresser and two night tables with varying sizes, shapes, and colours within them. A bedroom may just be a room, but “3 Bedroom Apartment” asks us to question how easily we disregard these pieces of furniture when we are done with them. Too often we overlook the beauty of a night table that has slept beside us for years, or a dresser faithfully holding our clothes through whatever style changes we make. The pieces have a dynamism closer to the socks, condoms, and late night reads of the people who use them than simple pieces of wood. As Spier points out, no one knows us better than the things we throw away.

Her photography, too, continues this revival of our waste in her “Inside Desk Series.” Photographing the boards of school desks, Spier’s work sees the beauty in every “suck me,” or penis drawing, down to band doodles such as PANTERA in block letters. Upon a closer look, poetry emerges in the confessions of prepubescent love and woodcarvings claiming, “I got the key to Gramercy Park.” No message is left unimportant or abandoned, causing the viewer to unearth layers of adolescence with their own mental eraser. What appears from the crusted bubble gum, band-aids and strange animals with dicks is a distinctly Montreal student body. Graffiti letters spell out “Haiti #1,” we learn “Matusia is prettiest in the world,” and “Greece” appears alongside “Quebec.” One student described, this “Endroit cruel où enfants souffrent.” “A cruel place where children suffer,” becomes a contemplative place for adults to remember such naive suffering of long ago.

Lefort’s paintings, on the other hand, recall the fun of “abstract” day in art class – only matured and perfected. In one room, her paintings hang from simple clips with the ripped edges of a spiral notebook still intact. Too casual? Shouldn’t she be taking her art more seriously? Lefort’s work answers for itself: you should be taking yourselves less seriously. With titles such as “Brown Cave with Many Different Cloud Systems” and “Green Cave with Confetti Hailstorm” we see an imagination at work. She intermingles colours and textural styles with drips, swaths, and globs of paint creating these “make-believe” places. Lefort’s true talent lies in her ability to look at things with the eye of a child. One can imagine in “Peach Cave with Yellow Spots” the thrill of a child splitting a peach and discovering the universe of a pit for the first time. Despite many degrees, awards, and children of her own, Lefort is a kid at heart, thus producing a whimsical yet ripe body of work.

Spier and Lefort’s work brings a glowing vitality to the Montreal art scene this month at Parisian Laundry, indicative of the return to Neverland that this exhibition aims to induce. With sunshine pouring in through floor-to-ceiling windows from a St. Henri sky, Parisian Laundry is surely a place to let your imagination run wild.

Grade and Make-Believe will be showing until November 27 at Parisian Laundry, 3550 St-Antoine O. Opening hours Tuesday to Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m.