Michael Eddy’s exhibition of prints and videos currently occupies the small gallery of the Fonderie Darling. We’re told that the title of the exhibit, Je Suis, references “Je Suis Charlie” — the slogan of mourning and solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
And yet, browsing Eddy’s loose styrofoam block prints of bored office workers and a sort of sleazily winking rendition of Martin Luther, I found myself more and more dubious of any link between the 2015 shooting and the work at hand. There is a cartoonish quality to Eddy’s prints, but nothing particularly polemical or satirical. We see a crowd doing naked yoga attacked by police in riot gear, but what kind of metaphor is this? That satire is like… naked yoga? That extremist shooters are also like a violent arm of the state? It’s impossible to parse literally but also without figurative meaning.
Milly-Alexandra Dery’s didactic text on the exhibit, meanwhile, makes some stunning assertions about Eddy’s work. It’s an impressive exemplar of the kind of art text that insulates itself from critique by sheltering itself in doublespeak. Apparently, by removing any direct reference to Charlie Hebdo, “Je suis invites viewers to imagine a new complement to this verbal state, this rallying cry indicative of self-expression in general. From one work to the next, a narrative unfolds that is both coherent and dissonant and that, with a bit of humour and provocation, criticizes the prevalent conservatism and pretension to universality.”
Let’s try to discern what this means. The work both makes sense, and doesn’t? It allows us to imagine literally anything following the phrase I am or I follow? Note also that there are limp gimp-suits littering the Fonderie’s floor as part of the installation component of Je suis, which is — yes — funny, and also built into gimp-faced office chairs, which is very funny, but we’re to understand this as a challenge to conservatism? Because we’re supposed to assume conservatives only like vanilla sex? Eddy’s critique, if you can find it, is nonsensical.
Then there are Eddy’s videos, Infinite cruelty, for nothing and Extremities, which ostensibly “evok[e] snuff movies and the aesthetic of soft porn.” I can only imagine what soft porn Dery has been watching, but I assume “evoking snuff movies” is scary-sexy code for saying the videos are both blurry and shaky and that the narration has gone through voice modulation. The videos, Dery asserts, “show disturbing, even upsetting, interactions between various objects.” Dery also hints at “the staging of visceral urges and the expression of the forbidden, of transgression and desire”.
Now don’t be afraid, because these “disturbing” videos actually feature such shocking scenes as a man, presumably Eddy, tying up a Tim Horton’s Visa card with a cute little chain and then tarring and feathering the card (with rainbow-coloured feathers) while talking to a truly exasperated Visa phone attendant about “liquidity” as he intentionally conflates asset liquidity with actual physical liquids. It might be amusing if it didn’t reek of self-importance; if the work didn’t seem to be simultaneously mocking and misunderstanding S&M; and if you weren’t still desperately trying to wrap your head around how Je suis addresses “academic freedom and the rise of hate speech.”
Take a seat
It’s easy to be less critical of Vikky Alexander’s Nordic Rock in the Main Hall of the Fonderie Darling because really it’s just an exhibit of very beautiful chairs. Imagine if Donald Judd had had a slightly hallucinatory period where he used dichroic glass. While captivating, Alexander’s sculptural furniture, intended to expose the perils and hypocrisies of luxury, undermine her by being so alluring as objects, and the clash we’re supposed to experience, “between the former working-class neighbourhood and the current, massive real estate development intended for a wealthy population” is lost. Her visual language is so embedded in gentrification, in unfettered object lust, that you don’t “examine the world of illusion and material desire” — you long for it instead.
A big part of this is because the “imposing” vinyl collages of landscapes and photographed texture blend in with the walls of the immense Main Hall, so much so that it’s easy to forget they’re there. Thus, instead of “highlight[ing] the marketing strategies of appropriating and substituting nature used by the real estate and interior design markets” the exhibit risks becoming a call to consumerist luxury rather than an exploration thereof.
I strongly suspect Alexander and Eddy of both harbouring a secret and wholesome passion to design chairs instead of making art, but the critical discourse being attributed to their work would pretend otherwise. ■
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