VALÉRIE BLASS: MY LIFE
January 24–March 7, 2015
Opening Friday, January 23, 8pm
Conversation with ARIANE NOËL DE TILLY
Saturday, January 24, 2pm
It begins in 1992, but perhaps more seriously in 1995. Blass, and her work, represent the elongation of recognition. She devotes her twenties to doing what most people do in their twenties, finding her way, and in 1995 she enrolls in fine arts at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Hers is a career that feels antithetical to the rapid pace of contemporary art but is a path far too familiar for women. She is approaching thirty when she decides to be serious about art making, and even then prolongs the completion of her graduate studies. She has responsibilities to her children and to herself to earn a living. She sees her male peers rise to success in half the time. But she does not need to be in the business of catching up, which erroneously implies she is behind. She is, and this is fortunate for us, an artist out of time.
It should be noted that in 1992 Canada sends its first woman into space.
Describing anyone as a magician feels absurd. But it would not be misguided to refer to Blass as such. Her five years in film set design made her adept at artifice, and she is an expert in misdirection and sleight of hand. Her work reminds us that our sense of perception is easily punctured. The colour you thought was yellow is actually blue, the slumped figure that you understood as your mother is in fact your father (or worse, yourself). Her process generates estrangement, with our own bodies and with the things that surround us (whose limbs are these?). There are parts that feel commonplace and uneasy—poses from classical sculpture and their patriarchal origins, or the hand wielding a knife that protrudes from a lumped object, who exists somewhere between abstraction and figuration. Slipping in and out of fiction, the work is anachronistic and, ultimately, odd. Its peculiar qualities stem from Blass’ singular vision, which is not afraid to be awkward or vulgar, or, perhaps more dangerously, female.
Misdirection is apparent in her interest in puppets. In a puppet show viewers are intended to look at the puppets and not the puppeteers (whose limbs are these?), even though it is their collaborative movement that produces a performance. Similarly, in the museum, sculptures are staged by positioning the parts (artifacts) with the assistance of a support system. We are asked to imagine the missing pieces and reconstruct the original sculpture, but the system itself participates in the museum experience. “When viewing one of the murals face on, we see emerging an image, a situation, an action. And when we circulate the links in between things become mechanical, machine-like. The portrait of a woman, sculpted from head to thigh, which we see from behind…This is the image, but in reality the mirror enlarges, her face is cut, a tiny bas-relief fixed right where her face should be. What makes sense when we look frontally deconstructs itself when we look from the side. The possibilities are endless.”
The front is not enough. The sides offer a disassembled story, a tangle of ropes, mirrors, keys, and signs that materialize narrative links. An arrangement of elements on the wall from a distance formulate a face, with eyes and lips protruding at clumsy intervals. Blass plays with anamorphosis and distortion, mirror effects and flattened objects. No angle is to be trusted as posture and form give way to the limits of materials. In the same way our lives require dimension, these fronts are not enough. Experiments with life stories, written in a language of icons and caricatures, of simple pictures, of films or surrealist photos. A stereotypical sculpture for a stereotypical story, an overlap of false autobiographies. “My life: my summer of drugs. My marriage. My childhood. The spring I had three lovers.” Whose limbs are these?