Françoise Sullivan

Currently on display in Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, is a body of work that Sullivan has built through a broad range of activities, from dance to painting, sculpture, conceptual artwork and writing. Throughout this, she continued to to explore the sources of human nature and went through successive periods of aesthetic questioning. It was almost as if, once Sullivan masters a medium or particular artistic approach, there was a change in course in order to set off in a new direction.

When walking into the exhibition, it was not as though this was the work of one artist. There was a huge variety in the use of materials, mediums used and the ways in which these were all displayed in one space. There was a large juxtaposition between the mediums of film and sculpture or painting in particular as there seemed like no links between them due to the nature of the medium and the way in which they were used. However, there was one recurring theme throughout the work that could be seen; constant movement.

Performance pieces seem very free, and based on the internal and gut reaction to the music as it plays, creating very free and flowing movements that are devoid of thought. These performances have also been captured in different ways along with different performers, keeping the viewer interacted with individual headphones and images. If I were to go back to performance, or want a different way to display something, I feel like I would look back on this exhibition as inspiration.

Julian Rosefeldt

Walking into Manifesto is an assault on the senses. Twelve screens and audio tracks smack you round the face to bring you up to the forced referencing of architecture, film, theatre, performance and the visual arts. Rosefeldt reads around and from the foundational texts by artists who shaped the history of art of the twentieth century. These include Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxus, Suprematists, Situationists, Situationists and Dogme 95 and individual artists. But, by bringing these manifestos together, Rosefeldt creates his own manifesto – a “manifesto of manifestos”.

Each of the twelve films co-ordinates with one another to come together in one moment of eerie similarity, each speaking in a different pitched monotone. As you look around at this moment, you have several faces intensely staring at you, daring you to listen to all at once. Australian actress Cate Blanchett embodies each of the twelve characters bringing forward a call to action, where language and its preformative musicality are meant to be put into motion. The manifestos that are spoken in each of the ten and a half minute films are generally written by angry young men, and performed here by a woman.

“Rosefeldt’s work reveals both the preformative component and the political significance of manifestos. Exploring the powerful urgency of these declarations composed with passion and convictions by artists over the last century, Manifesto questions whether the words and sentiments have withstood the passage of time. Can they be applied universally? How have the dynamics between politics, art and life shifted over time?”

The exhibition is the last on display in Montreal’s Contemporary Art Gallery (Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal) before moving buildings after seventy years.

Kristan Horton

Kristan Horton uses a more experimental approach to his photography, with a heavy ‘need to speculate how photography affects knowledge’ (Frieze). Horton is a multi-disciplinary artist who works in sculpture, drawing, photography and video, while suing layered processes in both material and virtual. His primary source of his investigations are that of everyday objects, often superimposing several images together, in order that they were taken, to create a dynamic and multilayered ‘composite of perspectives within a single frame’.

There is sometimes a nonsense dialogue that happens in his works, keeping him in dialogue with the Modernist past, as well as reminiscent of Futurist, Cubist and Dada works. “However, it is Horton’s insertion of sheets of malleable plastic into the compositional mix that allows for an assertively contemporary and serious investigation of perceptual phenomena associated with image transparency, opacity, reflection and degradation – and with the descriptive limits of digital technology” (Frieze). Horton’s work offer surprising hints of the unexplained while dutifully testing the representational limits of technology.

When viewing two of his works at the National Gallery, Ottawa, each time you would walk by the prints, there would be something new to see and to study. Due to the expanse of layers within the piece, I don’t believe that I have seen each one, and they mould and disperse into one another.

Richard Learoyd

Richard Learoyd uses a home-built camera obscura to create a large scale image of humanity, and to be an experience, rather than just an image. With his photography, you are able to see eyelashes and dust on the surface of fabrics from the high level of sensitivity of the camera that he uses. The result is completely grain-less. Learoyd takes his ideas and inspiration from visual culture and images, to continue his photographic lineage that he has created.

“A photograph should have the ability to communicate a sense of humanity, especially if it’s a picture of a person, and it should have an internal narrative that allows you to walk away with a question or two in your mind.” – SFMOMA

Each image that Learoyd creates aims to encompass the sense of humanity that portraiture can often forget about.

Pascal Grandmaison

Pascal Grandmaison uses film, video, photography and sculpture to explore and investigate the relation of the part to the whole, and ‘how the experience of viewing a work is mediated by the act of capturing an image’. Grandmaison often works in portraiture to reflect this, and displays the interest to the inner self.

“My work I about the power of thought that one can have over things, others people, on the world around us and our own internal universe.” – National Gallery of Canada

At the National Gallery, Ottawa, a portrait from the “Glass” series is displayed on its own, showing the viewer a snippet of the large scale portraiture and the impact of Grandmaisons’ work. The series has a total of nine portraits in which a ‘young person holds a glass panel that extends over the entire surface of the image, except for the right side’ (Grandmaison), where the subject’s hand holds the edge of the glass. Within these portraits, there is a focus on the image making, reflection and flat surface. There is a repetition in all; they all hold the glass with the same hand, arm at a right angle, head down and eyes lowered to the floor, with body aligned with the camera’s plane. There is a small reflection of the camera in each, making the photographer and subject united and separated through the glass.

Arnaud Maggs

Arnaud Maggs uses a multiple-grid technique with serial photographs of faces and miscellany to display his fascination of systems, classifications and historical documents. Through this technique, Maggs was able to reveal the distance between symbols and their representation.

“…what I really wanted to do was to use the camera as a documentary tool – Just as Atget had. And I realized you didn’t have to resort to any visual tricks to do it. I wasn’t after a style. I just wanted to act as a recorder. I realized that all I wanted to do with the human head was simply to let people see it.” – National Gallery of Canada

His photographs give the viewer the opportunity to look at our surroundings to see ‘the unusual beauty in the commonplace’. This is everything from the markings on old books, to the shape of people’s heads. Maggs was not afraid to display his production throughout the exhibition process, recording the people, places and lived experiences that not only he found significant, but also those that have marked him. They can be seen as portraits of the artist.

When viewing his work at a recent exhibition in the National Gallery, Ottawa, the initial viewing of the pieces looks familiar, as it is something that many artists have adopted. Faces, from the centre of the display, looking in a more outward direction as you get to the edge of the display. When viewing this work closer, however, you start to see the imperfections of each photograph, where it may not have been developed fully and blurriness of movement. This makes the work seem more human, and brings you a closer connection with not only the piece, but also the development of it. I wish to allow the viewer to have this connection with the development of the piece when displaying my own work.

Ken Nicol

Ken Nicol often uses foul language in his work, writing in grids and pattern to overlay text in different orientations. His work also includes drawing, making, collecting and counting, and explains that “if you are offended by foul language, you’re probably not gong to like a lot of my work and you’re probably not going to like me…” (Toronto Guardian).

There is also a sense of the observation of an international and intellectual obsession of collecting within his work. No matter the medium that Nicol works in, it is always meticulously structured, creating a humble and mesmerising piece of work which makes you question whether he made it himself. His penmanship displays this the most, with repetitive words written in exactly the same way, thousands of times. Through the works, there is also a respect for the analogue and old-school practises through a juxtaposition of such practises and the smart, humorous and elegant practice that Nicol also uses.

“A practice that is deeply rooted in conceptualism. Nicol’s obsession with repetition results in work that demands our contemplation and attention forcing us to take renewed notice in the order and structure that surrounds us.” – Gallery Stratford

I was surprised when viewing Nicol’s work at the National Gallery, Ottawa, as it took someone else to point out the repetition of ‘fuck’ throughout the piece, that reminded me heavily of Josef Albers. I was in awe of the precision, care and detail that was evident throughout the pieces, and wanted to take this to continue into my own work.

Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander looked at the chaos of city life, organising vasts amount of visual information into dynamic compositions in photography. This creates humorous and poignant images of the everyday life that city dwellers and workers create for themselves. He has photographed portraits as well as city-scapes, and has curated several books around his own work. The marriage between the people and the city creates an urban social landscape in his photographs.

Friedlander works primarily in 35 mm cameras and black and white film to create high contrast pieces, using detached images of urban life, store-front reflections, structures frames by fences, and posters and signs all combining to capture the look of modern life. There is always some stillness in the movement in each of the photographs, capturing the bustling city life while also showing the serenity of daily tasks.

Through photography, and other mediums, I would like to capture the daily events of people in a similar way. The use of the 35 mm camera allows you play a larger part of the photography process, making you ask yourself the questions that the camera would automatically do for you. I want to have to play this part in the process, and to have to make these decisions myself about the photography of everyday people.

Michael Snow

Michael Snow came from a family with two cultures – English and French, and used his artwork to look at the juxtaposition between the two using visual art, experimental film and music. His contributions to these have been recognised internationally. His father became blind after an accident at a work site, and Snow reflected on this inspiration through his drawing, painting and writing. He often turned to music throughout his life, and improvised many of his pieces when performing, recording and composing for international audiences.

His travelling exposed him to painting and sculpture, as well as the work of Paul Klee, which confirmed his decision to become an artist. Working with film allowed him to continually experiment with music and more visual and still art. As a multi-disciplined individual, he was able to draw upon many aspects to create one piece of work, and translate it through those aspects. Snow was always conscious of the nature of the medium he was using, and manipulated it to intensify the spectator’s involvement with the artwork.

My paintings are done by a filmmaker, sculpture by a musician, films by a painter, music by a filmmaker, paintings by a sculptor, sculpture by a filmmaker, films by a musician, music by a sculptor… sometimes they all work together. Also, many of my paintings have been done by a painter, sculpture by a sculptor, films by a filmmaker, music by a musician. There is a tendency towards purity in all of these media as separate endeavours.” – ACI

When visiting his artwork in the National Gallery, Ottawa, I found that his artwork was very different to what I had anticipated. The photography was intimate and showed individual steps, while his sculpture made you explore. Within both artworks, you were able to view yourself, or someone else, through it, making the viewer more involved with the piece. Coming from an often narcissistic society and generation, with the use of selfies and social media, these pieces make you think about the wider world, and the relationship between cause and effect, and how view points can differ.

John Coplans

John Coplans was a British artist, art writer, curator and museum director who was a WWII war veteran. Some of his work is known as he was a founding member and one time editor-in-chief of Artforum magazine. One of his most famous series of works was a series of black and white photographs that depict the human body, especially his own naked body. His face is never shown within these images, making the viewer question whether it is all his own. This also allows you to come away from the focus of gender and identity – it becomes very personal but generic.

“So, I’m using my body and saying, even though it’s a 70-year-old body, I can make it interesting,” he said of the work. “I don’t know how it happens, but when I pose for one of these photographs, I become immersed n the past…I am somewhere else, another person, or a woman in another life. At times, I’m in my youth.” – Artnet

After the war, he was offered a grant to create art, and was introduced to the Pop Art movement, and which he became deeply involved in as both critic and curator. Occasionally, through his photography, you can get a sense of pain or discomfort with the positions that he puts himself in, perhaps reflecting on the war.

“I have the feeling that I’m alive, I have a body. I’m 70 years old, and generally the bodies of seventy-year old men look somewhat like my body. It’s a neglected subject matter…So, I’m using y body and saying, even though it’s a seventy year old body, I can make it interesting. This keeps me alive and gives me vitality. It’s a kind of process of energizing myself by my belief that the classical tradition of art that we’ve inherited from the Greeks is a load of bullshit.” – Tate