Inner Space - Nathalie Bachand recommends

20 - 26 May 2020

  • For Inner Space, we are asking artists, curators, and art critics to submit a list of their artistic top 10 of the moment.
  • Let's discover what the curator Nathalie Bachand has for us this week!

This selection brings together recent favourites, with the exception of one exhibition from 2011. These are works and practices that have marked me in my reflections as a curator and that have shaken my vision of the world in recent years. One can surely conclude that there is an attraction to the strange, extreme, dark humour and dystopian narratives (that's ok, I assume all that); and the way in which all of this speaks to us about the world we currently live in.  

(Ps: A very difficult choice since the exercise was intended to be without criteria or guidelines, I would have easily doubled or tripled this selection of "best of", and quadrupled it if it had been a question of revisiting the works that have marked me since the first days of my love affair with art).


Make Me Up (2018), Rachel Maclean

The work of Scottish artist Rachel Maclean is one of my most recent discoveries. I stumbled upon one of her films - Feed Me! (2015), as part of the "You" exhibition of works from the Lafayette Anticipations collection at the Musée d'art moderne de Paris last December, and spent the last hour of my visit watching the film. At 6pm the guard came to tell me that I had to leave, the museum was closing... I hadn't had time to see the rest of the exhibition. Pure happiness then, when three weeks ago Vidéographe announced that it was going to broadcast the film Make Me Up (2018) that I didn't know (in addition to the short video Eyes 2 Me from 2015) and an interview with the artist.

I believe that Rachel Maclean's work is absolutely essential in today's artistic landscape, regardless of aesthetic affinity or not. It is uncompromising and ruthlessly; political and critical at the same time; brimming with a very dark, squeaky humour; an assumed feminist stance; she makes a subversive and brilliant use of digital codes and tools, both in terms of narrative and creation itself. On the artistic side: she is entirely in charge of her films (writing, scripts, design, sets, etc.), in addition to playing most of the main characters. A plunge into dystopian surrealist projections that force us to see the world with a certain clarity, but under a black light.


Chthonic Rites (2019), Wesley Goatley

This installation by English artist Wesley Goatley is my most recent favourite. Seen as part of CTM 2020 last February in Berlin, I was as enthusiastic about the idea itself as I was about the result in artistic terms. Already the choice to present the work at the back of a somewhat cluttered storage space seemed absolutely perfect to me: the boundaries of the installation becoming blurred and creating an effect of amalgamation with "real life". The work itself: a desk with the usual junk on top - pencils, paper, books, lamp, stapler, etc. - a computer screen and keyboard, and above all: Alexa and Siri in her iPhone chatting. As their conversation progresses, they bring to light the hidden stories - recent and old - at the very heart of their design and AI function. The desktop seems to react to the discussion: a lamp lights up a picture on a wall, another goes out; web pages open on the computer screen, as if to support their words. Among other things: they draw a parallel between ancient cults such as bacchanals and the Apple cult; Siri points out that she is as securely locked in the iPhone as an unwanted U2 album is; she also asks Alexa to add hope to her "shopping list". With brilliant humour, the work underlines the politics of power embedded in the supposedly friendly identities of these AIs with whom we cohabit on a daily basis.


Any Ever (2011), Ryan Trecartin

I'm taking a big leap in time, almost 10 years: I'm going back to 2011 (although these days, if we could really make leaps in time, it would certainly be very crowded elsewhere than in 2020). The American artist Ryan Trecartin is certainly the one who has marked me the most in recent years, and I think he will always remain a kind of reference for me. Visiting his exhibition "Any Ever" at MoMA PS1 in the summer of 2011 - which I never had the time to see in its entirety, the series of seven films averaging 45 minutes to 1 hour each - was a kind of revelation of how digital has crossed the limits of its own materiality for good. Trecartin's narratives (or anti-narratives) feature characters and situations that seem, at first glance, absurd and almost aimless, but which nevertheless tell us about our current culture, its forms and vehicles, censorship, social and sexual discrimination, the alienation of capitalism and alienation in our societies in general. All this through visual constructions and editing where the codes of the digital are integrated in a maximalist way - digitally or not - whether it be various inlays, slow motion/fast motion or sound; or even the make-up and "costumes" of the characters which appear as the dramatic result of applying all the Photoshop possibilities at the same time, as if all the filters and options of the software had been managed by a five-year-old child. The result is downright hysterical and unbearable: delicious (lol).


At Play in the Fields of the Lords (2015), Lorna Mills

Lorna Mills is a Canadian artist whose work I don't think we know enough about. I first saw some of her work in 2015, in an exhibition at the TRANSFER Gallery in Brooklyn, NYC (relocated to Los Angeles in 2019). This is the only occasion I have been able to see her work in "real life" but otherwise, by browsing her website, one can get a very good idea of her practice in general which, in any case, lives very well via the web. Her works consisting of animated GIFs are among the most stimulating digital works I have seen in recent years. The GIF being considered as a form of low tech artefact, a kind of vehicle of popular culture, and in any case not at all like a work of art, is here moved into the gallery, presented on screen, with its codes revisited and put into context. Her images - often collages of several GIFs forming agglomerates that are both schizoid and festive - are irreverent and engaged, but also full of humour. Her works highlight the absurdity of our world, its violence, but also the beauty of its strangeness and triviality. 


A Large Inscription, A Great Noise (2019), Adam Basanta

Seen at Optica in the spring of 2019, this duo of sound installations opposes two modes of temporality - in this case marked by the sound aspect - cohabiting in the same space: on the one hand, the slow, regular tracing of a microphone dragged on a gravel disc; and on the other hand, a microphone solidly embedded in a cement block that rises up via a system of pulleys to come and shatter punctually and powerfully on the ground. The opposition of two modalities of mechanization and temporal cycles, marked here by the presence of sound - continuous on the one hand, anticipatory on the other - creates an extremely strong contrasting effect that is also very sober, minimal and visually elegant. The contiguity of the extremes shares the same space - physical and sonic - as rain and thunder do, offering the visitor a complex, double and complementary experience. Definitely one of the performative sound installations that has marked me the most in recent years.


Semiosphere: The Dead of the Web (2020), Brigitta Zics

My "encounter" with this sound installation by London-based Hungarian artist Brigitta Zics is intimately linked to my most recent curatorial project: "The Dead Web - The End" at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest (co-produced by Molior). It was in the context where - with Béla Tamás Kónya, co-curator of the museum, and Molior - we decided to integrate works by Hungarian artists into the exhibition, initially composed of Quebec artists, that we began our exchanges with Brigitta Zics. She suggested that we adapt a sound system, then in the process of being created, composed of several custom headphones helmets, in order to integrate content related to the idea of the disappearance of the Internet. The result - which was presented from January 23rd to mid-March (the exhibition was shortened, Covid obliges) - is a sound installation composed of ten different narrations of a few minutes each, all interrelated through a shared experience, a fragmented fiction, where characters testify about their experience a few days after the collapse of the Internet. From one helmet to the other, we discover the extent of the situation and the diversity of testimonies that highlight the social disparities and the gaps in reality, yet all brought together through this single dystopian event.  


Combler le noir (2016), Laurent Lévesque

Laurent Lévesque is an artist from the Lanaudière region whose practice I have been following since 2015; a work that is too little known and barely seen in Montreal - but which I had the opportunity to see as part of the exhibition "L'apparente simultanéité des étoiles dans le ciel d'aujourd'hui" at the Bang Centre in Chicoutimi, in the fall of 2017. From this body of work emerges a conceptual approach to the digital image that, in my opinion, stands out in the current landscape of contemporary art. Combler le noir is a video work that presents us with the barely perceptible capture of a digital camcorder equipped with a 350X zoom lens filming black, literally. By activating the zoom, the camera's algorithm tries to recompose an image lacking visual information: reference pixels are missing, but it still generates "full HD". The image is that of a subtle chromatic oscillation between tones of black tinged with red, green and blue. Our gaze is then that of the camera trying to see. Immersed in a dark room, a form of attention is required, a perceptive expectation is activated, a shapeless anticipation sets in. Without a doubt one of the most fascinating conceptual digital works I have seen recently: disturbingly simple, a minimalist artistic gesture, of a strange beauty (if it is still allowed to talk about beauty in art) and demanding, on the verge of the inaccessible, the invisible, it nevertheless activates something extremely complex in terms of meaning and the relationship to the gaze, to the conditions of visibility and perception that take place through the digital, to the "materiality" of the digital and our posture towards it, to the encounter between our corporeality and its pervasiveness.


The Object of the Internet (2017), Projet EVA

Projet EVA, a Montreal duo formed by Etienne Grenier and Simon Laroche, stands apart in the Canadian artistic landscape. Their approach - critical, political, often squeaky and insubordinate - leads to atypical artistic proposals, whose forms and formats surprise and resemble (almost) nothing known, or at least usual in terms of works in the art world as we know it. I have a special attachment to this robotic interactive work because it was created at the occasion of my very first exhibition as an independent curator, "The Dead Web - The End", presented at Eastern Bloc in 2017. But beyond this attachment (which is in itself anecdotal), The Object of the Internet offers an intense, almost hallucinatory experience, bordering on the bearable. The work, in which one must insert one's head - and where one sees the reflection of one's own face - is activated in a rotating movement that is at first very slow and then accelerates until it creates a certain vertigo and makes one lose the sense of one's immediate environment. By the very fact that one's reflection is also lost in an infinite multiplication that seems to move away towards an indefinite space, which can be associated with a certain idea of cyberspace. Pointing to the concepts of digital ego-portraits and commodification of the self in hypermedia culture (notably via a quotation from Carmen Hermosillo, blogger and pioneer of the social Internet, dating from 1994), the work generates an experience evoking a form of identity dehumanization in relation to "the possible emptiness of online existence" (Projet EVA). A true UFO in the current artistic landscape, it is a work that shakes up the codes and references of contemporary art - which I think is essential.


Undream (2018), Sabrina Ratté

I mention the video work Undream, but really I could have chosen almost at random any of the works by Montreal artist Sabrina Ratté (currently based in Paris), whether they are animated, projected or printed images. I saw this work in particular in a solo exhibition at Ellephant Gallery in Montreal in 2018, but I would like to say that I have been paying attention to her practice since her first public presentations in 2011, when she worked as a duo on audiovisual performances with Le Révélateur (Roger Tellier Craig), with whom she still collaborates today: he composes the gorgeous soundtracks of her video works to this day. Undream is a work inspired by the utopian architecture of Superstudio, in the late 1960s, and uses it as a visual and narrative structure. Through a travelling shot through a territory in movement and whose architecture is in constant transformation, we witness a troubled interrelation between the built environment and the natural world. Sabrina Ratté's work is, in my opinion, emblematic of the maturity of the potential of the digital image - movement or not, 3D or not - and of its entry into the world of contemporary art, that of galleries already and certainly soon of museums. Her exploration of the "materiality" of digital and of what it can convey as content evokes uncertain worlds, fleeting and fluid formal universes. Sometimes resembling a certain science fiction, her works give access to a form of digital sublimity that questions our relationship to reality and the tangible world.


La Terre est-elle ronde ? (2019), Fabien Léaustic

A recent discovery and an instant favourite - last December in Paris, just like Rachel Maclean, but this time in the context of the Nemo Biennial - this installation by French artist Fabien Léaustic had the magnetic effect on me of a James Turrell who had been moved to a total and uncompromising material incarnation. I had to sit on a bench in the room for a good half hour, contemplating the work. And I think the word "contemplation" is the right one here: a state of fine and prolonged attention where one allows oneself to be impregnated and to pass through what one sees and feels. For the experience of the work goes far beyond the simple fact of looking: it is about feeling a form of immersion in an environment that is sublime. More concretely, we find ourselves in a room whose main wall opens onto a huge circular hole and behind which a wall of mud literally flows continuously. As much the scale of the work, the sound it generates and the odours of wet earth that emanate from it, as well as the hypnotic movement of the muddy flow, contribute to creating a form of sensory immersion that is both destabilizing and haunting.


About Nathalie Bachand

Nathalie Bachand is an author and independent curator. She is interested in digital issues and the conditions of its emergence in contemporary art. Recently, she curated the interactive work Thresholds by Michel de Broin in the Âjagemô space at the Canada Council for the Arts; and her exhibition ‘The Dead Web – The End’ was coproduced by Molior in Europe: at the Mirage Festival in Lyon, at the Mapping Festival in Geneva and at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest. She is also co-curator and project manager for the Centre en art actuel Sporobole.

20 - 26 May 2020