Culture | Art that moves you, literally

Montreal gallery’s latest exhibit transforms the viewer into a participant

As an art history student, inevitably ending up bewildered at the meaning of a piece of  contemporary art is a common experience. Your immediate thought – though you would never admit it – is, “What the hell does that mean?” Upon an initial visit to Parisian Laundry’s new exhibit, which features a large, two-floor installation, titled Split, by Montreal artist Alexandre David, this bewildered thought came to mind.

Entering the main floor of the gallery, the viewer is confronted with two raised wooden platforms, constructed to undulate in a wave-like formation. In the middle of these platforms there is a low wooden ceiling supported by a single wooden beam. While gazing at the structure, a gallery assistant approached and informed me that visitors were encouraged to walk on the installation. My mind reeled – had I heard her correctly? You were allowed to step on the artwork? I cast years of museum etiquette aside as I placed my foot on the platform with trepidation. Fully stepping onto the installation, I expected alarm bells, sirens, security guards in ill-fitting blazers – yet, nothing happened. The beauty of this innovative, playful, and provocative installation became clear, and the possibility of the artist’s intentions and motives began to present themselves.

David also plays with the viewer’s perceptions of space – defining and changing our interactions with the main and top floor of the gallery. By raising the floor and making a straight surface rise and fall, Split forces the viewer – or rather, participant – to change the way they move about the room. No longer simply walking straight across, the participant ascends and descends, changing their viewpoint of the space within a short span of time. David’s low wooden ceiling also forces the participant to interact with the gallery in a different way, as the artist limits and restricts the viewers field of vision. He juxtaposes this limited view with the freedom and movement of the wooden platforms. This contrast asks the viewer to examine different perceptions and viewpoints, and to consider how the place you are standing can affect your outlook.

Split allows the gallery to become a more playful and – dare I say – fun area, removing some of the barriers between art and life. These barriers often exist in institutions, such as the museum and gallery, where art, contemporary art especially, can become simply an object, and artistic intention can be merely a mystery. In these situations, art can be displaced from the meaningful reality of everyday life.

In addition to David’s installation, Parisian Laundry is also currently exhibiting the work of Paul Butler in the bunker of their gallery. While David’s work takes up a large part of the show, Butler’s What’s Within series of photo-collages and cut-outs are small bursts of color against the bunker’s cement walls. Butler has appropriated fashion magazine pages, in which he has cut out the central figure of the image, and replaced it with layers of images and collages. The artist’s cut outs question the viewer’s perception of magazine images, and comments on how quickly we glance at media images without absorbing social context or detail. Butler’s works are all quite small in size (a bit smaller than a magazine page), acting as the perfect intimate counterpart to the large exuberance of David’s interactive installation.

Parisian Laundry’s exhibition is mischievous, provoking, and immensely enjoyable. David’s installation and Butler’s series of photo-collages ask the participant to change their perception of a normal moment in life, challenging them to interact with space, art, and images differently. So if you’ve ever felt the urge to reach across a forbidding Do Not Touch sign at a museum or gallery, Split is the artwork for you. What better way to ponder contemporary art than sit right on top of it?

The exhibit runs from November 5 to December 3 at Parisian Laundry (3550 St. Antoine Ouest).

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