Opening in October 2012 in Montreal’s artist-run centre articule and showing at Brooklyn’s The Front Room Gallery in January 2013 exhibit a duo from each of the respective cities. Montreal’s Michelle Lacombe will perform Where we touched; A drawing of places to meet authors a piece in which she underlines passages of a text on the gallery wall, depicting a sometime invisible exchange between reader and author. Also of Montreal, Jerome Havre’s fibre sculptures make use of light and flame to reference the ideology of the Enlightenment, as well as questioning the darkness and violence for which these same ideals where used as justification. New York sends us Patricia Smith’s map style drawings Plot Plans for an Ideal City; unachievable, idealized plans of a city that will never exist. Balancing the mind with the body, New York’s second artist Emily Roz presents us with a series of painting depicting the most physical of animal realities; beasts feeding and fucking in lush fauna. Is it involuntary to see a reflection of our human desires and judgements in these distinctly un-human bodies?
Territorial Re-Marks is part of the Montreal/Brooklyn exchange, a large project engaging many galleries and arts organizations in both cities and the first direct exchange of work between Brooklyn and Montreal in over a decade. The absence of an official flow between two such large, culturally vibrant and geographically proximal metropolises could be counter balanced by assumption that for these last 10 years physically insubstantial yet almost innumerable bytes of information have passed effortlessly across the ever-more smooth and accessible waves of the internet. In fact we are regularly bombarded with so much image and text from every corner of the planet that maybe the local context is more in need of support than anything far-off and exotic. Yet small local communities, assisted by social media, can hardly be said to be in decline. Maybe what we are missing is less tangibly micro or macro and lies in the ineffable middle ground of the physical objects that are no longer being trafficked between these two mega-villages.
For centuries, trade has stimulated exploration and vice versa. The Americas were ‘discovered’ by Europeans in their attempt to access the silk and spice rich shores of Asia without the dangerous and expensive trip either around the southern tip of Africa, or through the Red Sea and overland. Along with an awareness of a new continent, these voyagers also brought back exotic prizes, such as pineapples, tobacco and not long afterwards tomatoes. The humble tomato plant soon had its roots in all the gardens of Europe, making the well rooted argument that no matter how unbalanced an exchange may be, both parties are vulnerable to change.
When Michelle Lacombe underlines a passage on the wall, mimicking her original jest as a reader, she makes her mark, leaving evidence of her physical passage. Her choice, for better or for worse, becomes permanent, and adds her story to the original version. Space is made for the reader, beyond their habitual passivity, and the exchange between the author and the individual becomes possible.
Havre’s materials, in their luxurious fibre, seek to embody the dark exploitation of colonization. This work then also materializes our current condition of frantic overconsumption; and unchecked desire for foreign luxuries that devours endlessly and has nothing to give back. The idea of trade is not less present in his work, it has merely gone awry and become cancerous.
Roz’s paintings of recognisably ‘wild’ animals are almost impossible not to anthropomorphize into metaphors for human behaviour. Is this tendency to project part of our psyches into animal shapes why counties are often so strongly tied to the images of their local animals? A territory’s fauna can also be viewed as its’ most legitimate proprietor; if using and inhabiting are the purest form of ownership, then mankind is often only a transient tenant in nature’s property. The exchange we make with a given space’s wildlife can never really aspire to the idea of a ‘fair trade’ since one side takes and one is systematically taken, but Roz’s work reminds us that we are not immune to the push and the pull of nature, if we still see parts of ourselves in animal bodies it is because we are still tied physically to the terrain we inhabit.
Territory cannot be a faint presence in the work of any map maker, but the domain treated in Patricia Smith’s maps is not the physical one and any directions obtained from her drawings are likely to go beyond the Cartesian concepts of North, East, South and West. By mapping an ideal world that is based in the mind rather than the earth, Smith like Lacombe, makes an external, visible, physical space for something that was previously private, internal and invisible.
Physical trade between multiple territories is never entirely without risk. While ideas have always trafficked quickly and easily, like digital information, they are the can easily be rejected, they are more easily protected against. Objects, on the other hand are harder to ignore. They serve as anchoring points for ideas that on their own might have been too insubstantial to spread on its’ own. There is always the risk that one territory will colonize another, or that some curiosity brought over for show will lay down such deep roots that the indigenous flora and fauna will be threatened. This kind of risk is necessary if we really want to exploration of new territories, to see what is usually foreign or invisible and to partake in one of the oldest practices in human history: exchange.