ILLUSIONS PERDUES | LOST ILLUSIONS Part 3
with Thomas Dalbec
MAY 10 - JUNE 28, 2014
Text on the project
“We’re shortly going to show it.”
What? What are we going to show shortly? Well, “We’re shortly going to show it.”
–Derrida, “First Session,” The Beast and the Sovereign Volume I (2009)
This story begins with the remarkably titled “Instability of the Female Subject,” an artists’ residency at the Banff Centre in the early ’90s that culminated, not in the anticipated performance, but in a nudist pool party on campus, organized for and by the participants. A recording exists, diligently produced by a member of staff as ‘documentation’—and unsanctioned by the women in the pool.
Around the same time as this—and another scandal in Banff when an artwork by Mark Lewis was vandalized by ‘a group of feminists about the campus’—later in Toronto, five paintings and thirty-five drawings were seized by police as child pornography from a show at Mercer Union. The artist Eli Langer was 26, and it was his first solo exhibition. At the time, Sarah Pierce was also a young artist living in L.A. and in looking through archive materials was reminded of a time when antagonism towards artists took this form, rather than the internalised self-censorship, disillusionment, and disavowals of today. While charges were dropped against the artist and the director of Mercer Union, the subsequent court case brought against Paintings, Drawings and Photographic Slides of Paintings played out in the media, rallying the artistic community. Langer’s paintings were returned to him after a year of being confined.
“Show—what? Well, that “the reason of the strongest is always the best.”
–Derrida, “Third Session,” The Beast & the Sovereign Volume I (2009)
Over three decades, abandoned and gifted ceramics made by artists-in-residence have been watched over by the Banff Centre’s ceramics facilitator, Ed Bamiling. This ‘unofficial’ collection, some test pieces, some finished artworks, has appeared in gallery spaces in Banff and Montreal while handmade clay copies made by Pierce at Mercer Union join their ranks in the third and final part. Receding and emerging in black and white, a series of stage maquettes made by the renowned Czechoslovakian scenographer Joseph Svoboda alter on a continuous loop. Not directly related to Svoboda’s work in Banff, the purpose and origin of these 16mm films remains unclear and their recent discovery in storage was a surprise to staff in both Archive and Theatre departments.
Or perhaps this story should begin in 1966. Or rather, it is now 2014 and Pierce is at SBC Gallery in Montréal, looking through archival boxes from the time when SBC was the Saidye Bronfman Centre for reflections on the institutional trauma that accompanied the visual arts’ exile from the Centre and the gallery’s relocation. The status of the archive is unclear—it’s obviously incomplete, and there is some question as to where the rest could and/or should reside, if it does at all. Burlap curtains made in 1966 to cover the windows and obscure the interior architecture of the original Phyllis Lambert-designed Saidye Bronfman Centre are found and brought out to represent, in some way, something of this institutional trauma. The curtains, present for nearly every exhibition at the old Saidye, make an appearance in almost all installation shots of the institution before its relocation in 2007.
In these beginnings, we find a lost inventory that belongs to a generation of artists who appear in the work. Over the last eight months, Pierce produced an extensive three-part video, set in the galleries amidst the debris of exhibitions just past, suppressed at once—or deferred? The chants and gestures of the Conceptual Art Club (Calgary), Olivia Simpson and Kayla Krische (Guelph), and Thomas Dalbec (Montreal) evoke an illusion of a scene.
What scene? We’re shortly going to show it now.
With a gesture of Snow or Magnus or Messy Bed.
Or a chant of Train – Train – Train – Train.
If allowed further deferral of the beginning of our story: Sarah Pierce’s interest in Balzac’s novel in three parts, Lost Illusions (Illusions perdues)—which lends its title to this series of exhibitions—lies in Balzac’s depiction of the impenetrability of the gentrified class, of the unwritten codes of the bourgeoisie, to which Lucien, the main character in the book, makes it his life work to imitate, but to which he is unable to gain access. Lucien’s misreading is his downfall.
Pip Day, Georgina Jackson, Jesse McKee