Culture  A symphony of art

"Tubularium" displays abstract art of disabled students

A new collective art piece is breaking the gallery rule of “do not touch.” “Tubularium,” created by Jean Paradis and a group of fifty students at l’école St-Pierre-Apotre, invites viewers to physically interact with art. Paradis has spent the last four years combining his personal vision with his role as the art instructor at La Joie des Enfants, a Montreal organization that works with children with mental disabilities, to create this experiment in art therapy.

Housed at La Chaufferie, a non-profit art co-op, the collection’s main piece features a series of painted cardboard tubes held up horizontally by copper bars, inspired by the list of arrivals at train stations. Surrounding this centrepiece are four large paintings and dozens of coloured cardboard tubes standing on the ground and hanging on string, all hand-painted by Paradis’ students.

In an interview with The Daily, Paradis describes himself as the “conductor of this symphony of art,” where the symphony is this exhibit of therapeutic expression, and the orchestra his class of fifty students, all of whom have intellectual disabilities. Unlike nearly all other art exhibits, “Tubularium” invites visitors to touch the art itself, to play with the cardboard rolls, and to make noise by slapping them.

A large canvas spattered with a myriad of colours stands out on the wall. Paradis explains that the piece, called David et Lui, is a collaboration with one of his students, David. He smiles as he looks at the painting, sharing the story of 16 hours spent co-creating with David. The painting is striking, and clearly displays the many directions taken and setbacks faced by the artists along the way.

The exhibit as a whole gives the impression of being in a neon forest. The gallery’s walls appear like snapshots of mystical woods – once plain brick, now adorned with large explosions of colour, with the multicoloured cylinders standing like trees. The pattering sounds of flapping cardboard and the backdrop of classical vocal music permeate the air. When asked to put the essence of the piece into words, Paradis summed up his motives in three words: “interactive, sonorous, and ludic.” Each component is playful, sporting vibrant colours and abstract shapes, inviting the viewer to stare at length. In these prolonged viewings, the fluidity of the tubes becomes clear, and Paradis’ goals become increasingly coherent. The abstract beauty of the pieces and their interactive nature allows the viewer to personally connect with this forest.

At the same time that it provides an individual experience, the abstract setting also enables the viewer to see multiple perspectives imbued by the artists themselves. Recurring shapes within the individual pieces become noticeable signatures of the painters. At its core, this exhibit provides a means of communication, giving visual space to those who are so often erased in our ableist society. Each brushstroke is the death of another constraint, the elimination of one more barrier.