Out of gravity
- Date 2006
- Materials Wood, rocks, cans, sisal rope, wires, furnitures
Transmission of knowledge, exchange residency program with La Chambre blanche, Quebec City
Open space, Victoria BC
Transmission of Knowledge
Open Space / La Chambre Blanche Residency Exchange with Québec artists François Mathieu & François Lamontagne January-February 2006
At once aware of Open Space as an artist’s studio and of its utility as an architectural environment open for interaction, François Mathieu immediately took hold of several previously unexploited sites within the gallery walls. Through his constructions incorporating red cedar, spruce, cans, rocks, and rope, Mathieu’s constructions draw lines of tension and pressure, which call, in varying degrees of intensity, for participation with a mysterious goal. That is, these tensions invite physical interaction without an explicit necessity for tactile engagement, but with the very clear necessity of engagement in the metaphorical suggestion of a search. It is therefore quite appropriate that Mathieu took interest in previously unexplored corners of the gallery to this end.
The physical incarnation of a question, Mathieu’s sculptures invite investigation into and beyond their forms. In the act of building, Mathieu’s labour encompasses the very gesture expressed in his completed work. Anyone fortunate enough to witness the fervor with which he sets himself upon these objects cannot fail to perceive that basic connection. Here is an acknowledgment of the importance of a material reality that considers the sacred. In each completed construct, at least two directions are clear; the lines of tension are directed to the viewer and to something afar, strongly emphasizing and encouraging the exploration of form and its relationship to aspirations in the spaces beyond. These intensely physical structures strive, in their material existence, for the invisible space of faith.
Mathieu’s off-site project at the Victoria Conservatory of Music (formerly a church) provides a clear representation of that effort. A can is attached with string, wire, and an assemblage of spruce from a space next to the invisible ear of an invisible person seated on a lower-level pew. The string reaches up to the second level of the hall, to a complex climbing structure of spruce forming a tower, the top of which
Mathieu refers to as the “satellite antenna”. This antenna is a basic construction featuring another can as the concentrating point, with three legs of spruce raying from it in a small conical shape supported at the base by a shallow metal bowl attached with wire. It is aimed at the centre of a large and intricate circular stained-glass window situated at the very back and centre of the hall.
Despite this position of seeming entreaty, the work cannot be mistaken for simply a prayer. The uppermost can, after all, points inward, with its open end facing the interior of the space, down toward the listener. It is the base of the can that is aimed at the centre of the window, suggesting not only reception from above, but perhaps transmission from below.
Mathieu’s fascination with churches and his interest in building within them emerges in part from his understanding of their significance as structures that at one time encapsulated faith and knowledge, serving as a point of reference in terms of physical and psychological equilibrium. This interest extends to a situation in contemporary rural Québec which Mathieu experiences as the disassembling of this traditional system of community identity and the withdrawal of an identity-faith that he feels has long had its home in the very physical structure of the church.
The metaphysical nature of Mathieu’s work thus materializes not from a preoccupation with religion, but instead from an interest in and engagement with an essential human force that strives for meaning, a meaning that in his view the structure of the church at one point contained. Now that so many of these structures disappear or are transformed for other uses, what can the transformed incarnations contain? And where does faith now reside?
This is not to say that Mathieu puts his shoulder to the wheel with the express purpose of constructing an object that conveys a search for faith. The ubiquitous presence of this search allows it to emerge unmistakably as the result of his process, but there are many variables and possibilities expressed in its form. The sheer beauty of the objects, their aesthetic impact through dynamics of scale, angle, mass, and material, are in themselves quite miraculous, and seem the result of both careful labour and innate vision. The object relationships in these sculptures present a wondrous array of optical and spatial
experience; by experimenting with balance, tension, and the gravitational relocation of familiar materials, Mathieu’s work inspires concentration and awe by heightening an awareness of physical proximities in the viewer.
The cans, although suggesting literal acts of listening and speaking, also insist on a metaphorical value; they offer a starting point for transmission and reception, an intimate inquiring relationship with belief, a point from which to begin to speak or be spoken to. The ladder presents a similar metaphorical consequence. For Mathieu it presents a particular kind of perspective that is drawn through tools. Its presence is invaluable because of its undeniable physical utility. As an object used to aid the construction of his sculptures, it points in the direction of his constructive search in several ways, providing many points of reference; the open two-sided ladder creates a perfect convergence of lines towards a site of material labour that strives for the awesome.