It is difficult to say whether Mathieu Cardin is more an artist of deception, or an agent of truth. Certainly, the two personas mingle in his architecturally ambitious installations. Characteristic of Cardin’s work is an invitation to secret spaces and viewpoints; we are given access to behind-the-scenes, underbellies, workrooms. We come upon them in surprise, feeling the interloper, or, perhaps, co-conspirator. When he grants us entry into what appears to be a set production room, or shows us the chassis supporting a model landscape, we might understand this as a stance of transparency: in an attitude of deconstruction, he is candidly revealing the materials and processes behind his projects. However, these components, far from being haphazard, utilitarian or unsightly, are very consciously arranged, every roughly hewn board and roll of masking tape artfully poised within the tableau. They are further fictions, and rather than being open books, keys to our understanding, they obfuscate, serving to enhance the mysterious, artificial quality that permeates Cardin’s constructions.
The artist often incorporates two-dimensional images into his installations. In his recent exhibition Il n’en est rien, a boutique-like setup included staged photographs of products on the walls while its counters were largely bare, as if to underline the idea of advertising as “a fiction to generate desire”. Indeed, much of the two-dimensional imagery in Cardin’s work seems to operate on this principal, one of seduction and trickery. Recurrent idyllic images include semi-nude women, and attractive landscapes of cerulean skies, fluffy clouds and verdant hills. Through the accompanying sculptural work, we are led to understand them as disingenuous setups. Paintings of the zombie formalism variety have also adorned the walls of Cardin’s scenarios. There is perhaps a note of derision toward the imagery that we accept and covet, a push for us to recognize the inherent falsehood, vapidity and manipulation that it represents. That said, are the images more or less “real” than the clumsy mimetic objects that populate the installations? The blues and greens of landscape photos are transposed in 3D space: a monochrome blue painted panel stands in for sky, a potted houseplant fills the role of vegetation. Meanwhile, minerals and rocks appear to be fashioned of wood. Is image or object the greater falsehood? The distinction between the two is complicated by these interactions which marry the natural and the unnatural.
There is something of the provisional in Cardin’s work. The materials that have been present in certain installations – two by fours, plywood sheets – are casually, sometimes precariously balanced, so as to suggest a temporary configuration. Other elements, referencing cinema or theatre set design, appear hastily, though perhaps expertly, mounted, like the drywall that divides and defines spaces, and the spotlights that light them; everything could just as well be dismantled and reassembled in another iteration. Tools also feature in Cardin’s visual lexicon: scattered, abandoned mid-gesture. It is this provisional quality in his work that enhances the intrigue – it suggests that actions have recently occurred, and hints at what might happen next. Even without a human presence, there is a feeling of activity. The elements themselves perform, and perform themselves, so as to render any potential human drama irrelevant. The impression of flux is what makes the installations as a whole difficult to pin down. Thus, also provisional is our understanding of a Mathieu Cardin installation. As we move through the spaces, our perception and grasp of the situation may go through a series of changes as we adapt to new information. This dynamic is especially relevant to the present exhibition at articule, wherein the visitor’s experience is affected by how deeply they choose to navigate and relate the various components. Cardin’s installations contain ample substance to provoke a reflection on artifice and the construction of reality, and, at their core, they can also simply be enjoyed as endlessly inventive alternatives to our habitual realities.
Il n’en est rien, Galerie B-312, Montréal, January15 to February 13, 2016
Mathieu Cardin, from a conversation with the artist, January 2016