Mathieu Valade – Cubic Units


4 March–2 April 2011 in the Main Space

Artist Talk Saturday 5 March at 2:00 PM

Montreal artist Mathieu Valade's one hundred mirrored cubes present a personal an poetic look at the legacy of minimalism. The identical-in-appearance cubes arranged in symmetrical patterns differentiate themselves with animated effects, transforming similarity into difference. The effect is complicated by the cubes' mirrored surfaces which both defeat and amplify this differentiation in repetition.

Image: Mathieu Valade, "Monumental Toc"

How Sculpture is Performed:
Humble Suggestions For Viewing Cubic Units

Monograph essay by Victoria Stanton

I’m sitting at my computer reading past articles about Mathieu Valade’s work, before setting off to meet him for the first time at a café around the corner from my house. He is visiting Montreal from Chicoutimi, where he is currently professor of fine arts, teaching sculpture. I can imagine he has a busy schedule while briefly in town, but has made a point of getting together to talk—about his new installation at Latitude 53.

Invited, as I was, to reflect in writing on his practice, and more specifically on his new piece, Cubic Units, I considered the interest that I may have in exploring sculpture. You see, anyone who knows me knows how impassioned I am about performance. So I found myself intrigued, and delighted, to have been invited to write about Valade’s sculptural practice.

What does Mathieu Valade’s sculpture have to do with performance?

In 2000, Los Angeles-based sculptor Evan Holloway made a piece called “Wildly Painted Warped Lumber (#2).” In 2009 I read about it in the keenly insightful book, Perform, by Jens Hoffman and Joan Jonas. The piece is described in the second section of this set of short essays, titled “Performing the Object.” According to the authors, the particularity of this piece, as related to the ensemble of the artist’s practice, is its relationship to the viewer: “The works often turn out to be triggers for actions executed by the viewers who come into contact with them.” This, in turn, results in the spectator “(per)forming a second stage of sculpture.”

So in other words, it is the viewer’s body that enters into contact with the work, in order to complete the work. It is through the effort of the viewer, and the exertion of the body—to crouch, to bend, to arch, to search—that the art is received. Made to engage directly, it is through the viewer’s experience of the work that the work is fully revealed.

A description which seems uncannily fitting for Mathieu Valade.

Sitting with Valade, chatting over beers (the café was too crowded), getting a virtual tour of the last six years of his projects, he repeatedly articulates notions of his sculpture with overt references to the viewer (or visitor, as he prefers) stating the importance of this embodied presence to essentially resolve the work.

“I’m totally aware that I am asking a lot of the visitor,” claims Valade. “With my work, you have to take the time to enter into it: to arrive, open your eyes, and be curious. It is absolutely an investment.”

The significance of the space in which the work is found is also a crucial component with many pieces proposing a conceptual kind of “hide-and-seek.” Parts are camouflaged, sections are concealed, and the inquisitiveness of the visitor is rewarded through a revelatory “Ah-ha!” moment. An “OK, I get it!” that acts like a faint and delicate (yet highly satisfying) punch line.

This inherent humour (or lame joke, as Valade calls it) paradoxically proposes a kind of failure, as he considers the quality of “anti-monument” also at play—large-scale pieces that subvert the accepted conventions of a monument’s function. Not so much work imposing itself onto, or into, a space but the space being negotiated through the performative presence of the work. So it’s a positive failure, and is the strength of Valade’s installations, which in effect create an almost tangible dialogue simultaneously with the space and with the spectator. As Valade puts it: “It is sculpture as event.”

And we come full circle, as the function of this “failure” (or lame joke) is what, ultimately, fulfills the piece. The visitor performs the object while the work performs the space.

And this is how sculpture is performed.

Of course the irony is not lost on me that I am describing something I’ve not actually, physically (with my own body) encountered. Not seen, but gleaned through the magic of virtual space (i.e.: excellent documentation) and of course, convivial conversation. But you, dear reader, are standing at the threshold of Cubic Units. So I invite you, as visitor, to consider the space around you, and your body in it, in direct contact with the experience of the sculptural installation performing before you.

— Victoria Stanton

Performance artist, video-maker, and published writer, Victoria Stanton has presented actions, exhibitions, and videos in Canada, the U.S., Europe, the U.K., Australia and Japan. She co-authored Impure: Reinventing the Word (conundrum press, 2001), with Vincent Tinguely and is currently working on a book with the TouVA Collective (Anne Bérubé, Sylvie Tourangeau and Stanton) on the practice of performance within a Canadian/Québecois context.

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