Janelle Tougas at La Maison des artistes visuels francophones, Winnipeg
Janelle Tougas gives new life to innocuous material cast-offs in her exhibition Folle De Chagrin Mais Le Rire Déborde, De Novation en Novation at La Maison des artistes visuels francophones. But this new life is nearly non-declarative. Not necessarily latent, nor absent, but quiet, maybe shy, or perhaps hidden in plain sight. Yet it retains an eloquence in its economy of means. These off-hand bits and pieces are grouped into rhyming families and loose couplings. Their barely hued selves reoccur in mutating shapes and characters. They lounge unencumbered with the ease of a loose leaf caught in a breeze. They are simple but never succinct. Like a docile twig you might overlook on a walk, or a faint voice from the distance, they don’t necessarily want your attention, but they are there nonetheless.
They seem unaffected or bored, but at the same time, they rest as though in the process of something not readily tangible. They reside in a middle passage. In a manner reminiscent of the Arte Povera movement, the material groupings here appear to rely on serendipity in the way they end up in the artist’s studio. However, a careful orchestration is also at play. Every connective tissue feels purposefully chosen to sketch out something specific. The humble detritus of fringe fabrics, leather scraps, cured wood chips, wax, and stone are propped on intricately polished platform-like furniture. They resemble something you might find at a luxury design showroom, except their function is interpretive. The combination is lo-fi with hi-fi values. It’s casually handmade but perfected. Disheveled yet charmingly symmetrical. These pieces of decor act like stages for a performance. They are only coltish enough to signal to you that they shouldn’t be stepped on. Regardless of how slight they perform and although they hardly take any space in the gallery, they create and elevate an intimately ambient scene.
Anthropomorphizing this installation of doodling sculptures is partly the result of our inherent impulse to map the body onto three-dimensional abstractions. But what’s more is the poetic potential dispersed through the gallery. Tougas succeeds at robbing us of definitive descriptive words or any one-to-one narrative we might immediately try to piece together. The works here make rich implications on the limits of language and in doing so offer glimpses of the idiosyncratic beauty surfaced from the artist’s material inventiveness.
The work is doubly non-communicative and distances some of us from easy comprehension with its French titles. The artist eschews translation for what she called its “bureaucratic” nature. Acknowledging the impossibility of wholly expressing one language in another without compromising meaning, the titles, like the material compositions, are positions of proximity to a feeling of an ineffable familiarity. Tougas isn’t after a precise account or articulation through her material engagement here. Instead, she gestures lyrically without borders. And she invites us to pause and sit closely with the feathery delicacy and elemental simplicity of her constructions.
Janelle Tougas: Folle De Chagrin Mais Le Rire Déborde, De Novation en Novation was on display in July.
La Maison des artistes visuels francophones: http://maisondesartistes.mb.ca/
The gallery is partially accessible.
Luther Konadu makes things such as photographs, paintings, and prints which he occasionally calls art. He self-describes as a transcriber. He contributes content to a publication called Public Parking. Most days his favourite colour is green and one of his goals in life is to never be an art brat. He is Akimblog’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @public_parking.