Alain Paiement: Bleu de bleu
October 31, 2019 - January 5, 2020
By JAMES D. CAMPBELL, January 2020
“Blue is therefore most suitable as the colour of interior life.”
― William H. Gass, On Being Blue
"Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”
— Derek Jarman
That cruising the umbilical of the Saint Jacques expressway in Montreal and heading East or West in an Uber can be a voyage of discovery and elation is proven by Bleu de bleu, an environmental installation that laterally frames and inflects a solid concrete-and-asphalt length along Highway 20 between Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and downtown Montréal.
The scope and grandeur of Bleu de bleu by Alain Paiement is felt here not only in the commute but also in the archive so meticulously assembled and unveiled at the MAC. The institution has gathered relevant archival materials including photographic documentation and videography into an exhibition that constitutes a remarkable testimonial to the originality of the artist’s art and thought.
Paiement’s intervention in the built environment hinges upon a vast array of some thirty-two videographic, photographic and sculptural elements, with the intention of overlaying rather than undermining the structural grid. The work induces temporal and spatial reappraisal of the immediate environment, and invites us to experience the chromatic itinerary of blues as first-level perceptual information.
Since 2017, the work has relieved the anonymous brutality of the Montreal highway with its lustrous, luminous and ephemeral blue palette. It is the outcome of four years of intensive research carried out with the aid of many collaborators and partners.
Bleu de bleu transforms a humdrum stretch of urban highway into an Alphaville-like transit from the suburbs to the inner city and vice versa. It becomes a phenomenological phenomenon, a specular allegory, that enmeshes, informs and uplifts us, and, above all else, relieves the sheer austerity of the ride.
Think J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island (1974) but not as aggressive or tumultuous, transformed now into an urban sonata with sumptuous blue overtures. The work overlies the otherwise mute grid with a supple chromatic insistence that softens the horizontal facade, and is at once seductive and diverting. Whether in the driver’s seat or as a passenger in the back seat, the work makes its presence felt as a subtle chromatic palpation of the commonplace, or as a suitable act of reparation at the heart of the non-place as French thinker Marc Auge meant it, elevating the optic and obliterating the ordinary.
I should note that the exhibition is accompanied by a fine publication that methodically explores the work and its making in texts by Marie-Ève Beaupré, Christine Bernier, Aseman Sabet and Hubertus von Amelunxen.
Alain Paiement has been an important figure in contemporary Canadian photography for decades. Through such media as installation, photography and video, he relentlessly explores issues and states of time, space and human experience with a decidedly philosophical edge. His work has been presented in numerous exhibitions since the 1980s throughout Canada and the United States, but also in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
Blue was an arresting and consequential choice. Blue is inseparable from our experience of Nature and its tropes. It is synonymous with serenity, calm -- and seduction. It is the chroma that suggestively rules over ocean, sky, sleep, and twilight. Paiement’s installation makes for a beguiling poetic immersion, an itinerant passage, in blue. WM
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James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.