SÉBASTIEN CLICHE, SYLVIE COTTON, CHELSEA KNIGHT, and MARK TRIBE Brooklyn/Montreal Exchange
On ViewMomenta Art
January 11 – February 17, 2013
MomentaArt’s contribution to the eight-gallery-strong Brooklyn/Montreal Exchange, running from January 11 through February 17, 2013, features the work of Sylvie Cotton (Montreal), Sébastien Cliche (Montreal), and the collaborative team of Mark Tribe and Sophie Knight (New York).
Having just returned to Brooklyn from a week in a small village outside Montreal, I was curious what I’d find in this “exchange”—my experience of the region, at my family’s vacation home, largely involves standing in snowdrifts and butchering French in daily conversation. This is hardly a fair measure of what is occurring culturally and artistically in a country (and a city) so similar yet pointedly dissimilar to our own, so how convenient that Montreal basically landed at my doorstep.
Cotton’s work seems at once playful and investigative. “Art,” (2012), for example, consists of mint-flavored candies in plain white wrappers emblazoned with the word “ART” in red capital letters, as though these are some sort of generic art lozenges. Maybe, like nicotine gum, they are a substitute for a more immersive art experience if taken outside of the context of the gallery. Or perhaps they are an art-experience-enhancer, a way to fully engage one’s senses while touring the exhibit, sucking on art while watching and hearing art. Or perhaps they’re just a clever nod to the fact that all that boxed wine and mouth parching cheese at gallery openings makes for hideous breath (art breath?).
“Posse Comitatus,” (2012-ongoing), the collaboration between Tribe and Knight, is a video triptych. One channel depicts American militia members undertaking firearms “exercises” and tactical practices before a pristine snowy backdrop. Their careful actions, in spite of the weaponry and fearsomeness, seem somehow oddly serene, stripped of sound and placed in an otherworldly shroud of frost and nature. Flanking this monitor, the other channels depict dancers performing, in military-inspired costume, a choreographed routine that was apparently based on the aforementioned militia footage. One performance occurs on a sparse but dramatically lit stage; another is set in what appears to be a forest, perhaps a verdant and snow-free version of where the viewer has just witnessed joyless-seeming camouflaged figures firing weapons, hiding, chasing, aiming, playing “Soldier of Fortune.” An odd juxtaposition, indeed, but curious to consider how both dance and military tactics require hours, at least, of thoughtful choreography, obscured from public view, before the final product can be revealed, or perhaps unleashed. Of course, the outcome and intention of a high kick as dance metaphor is rather drastically different from that of a high kick to subdue some presumed enemy before pointing a gun in his face.
Adjacent to Tribe and Knight’s military-dance complex is Cliche’s abstract maze, “The Castle” (2012), an object reminiscent in structure of some kind of animation stand or old-fashioned overhead projector, but in reverse—projecting a soft, gently shifting image down onto a simple, white table. On closer inspection, enclosed in this world after slipping on the headphones unobtrusively beckoning the viewer to participate, the ever-altering images look to be blueprints. Lines accrue, buildings appear and change, the soundtrack seems to imperceptibly fluctuate as the marks lengthen and alter the shape and meaning of the maze-like structure being created in light on the table below. The unique perspective, looking down onto a flat plane, falling into the moving lines, slowly hypnotized by sound, shifts our relationship from viewer into that of confused object though the viewer stands at the drafting table, above the blueprints, separate from the piece, the viewer seems somehow drawn helplessly inside the maze by this overwhelming sensory experience.
By the exit hangs another of Cotton’s pieces, “Confidence/Confidence” (2012), a statement that seems to punctuate the end of the show with a quiet smirk. The exhibit is like a measured trip through several heavily deconstructed methods and demystified glimpses into the artistic process and what it yields. Each piece seems on the surface to explain its concept and execution simply and clearly, leaving all deeper interpretation to the complicated, politically loaded, or vague images within the work itself, the text used, or the rigorousness of the creation process that has been laid bare. In Cotton’s piece, two simply framed prints proclaim in unobtrusive font, “When I show my work and nobody gives any feedback I feel I have—“and here one finishes with the word “succeeded,” where the other caps this thought with the word “failed.” This statement feels visceral and seems almost uncomfortably intimate to those of us who have sat in a silent critique, trying to make eye contact, grappling with the choice between calling this moment victory or defeat. Is that uncomfortable silence the product of poorly received provocation, awe, or even (gasp) boredom? Either way, Cotton assures her own victory—the viewer will agree with one of these sentiments, “success” or “failure.” Thus confidence is hers. For those viewers who have agonized over work only to receive nothing in reply, Cotton neatly dispatches us from the exhibition with a lingering gut punch (made sweeter by the mint candy the viewer collected earlier, of course), though Brooklyn/Montreal Exchange refuses to be met with blank stares and the sound of crickets.