Whitehot Magazine

Je relis tes lignes : Marie-Michelle Deschamps et Eleonore False at Diagonale Montreal

Marie-Michelle Deschamps and Éléonore False, Installation view at Diagonale, Montreal, 2018.

Diagonale, Montreal

April 21 - June 9


In this hugely auratic and intricately worked dialogue between two gifted artists, Montreal-born Marie-Michelle Deschamps and Paris-born Eleonore False, there was a sense of discovery, epiphany -- and pre-destiny. 

In chiasmic dialogue, the two separate but congruent lines of the artist’s thoughts interlaced and achieved liminal radiance. Perhaps this owed something to the fact of a felicitous coincidence: they were both reading Swiss writer’s Robert Walser's (1878-1956) Micrograms when they met. These 526 small sheets covered with text written in pencil in minute characters (at most 1 mm in height) —a remarkable collision of Henri Michaux’s mescaline drawings and the Voynich manuscript – naturally came up when they discussed this co-presentation and was to provide salutary inspiration for the works in the exhibition. 

After assimilating Walser’s ‘secret’ writings, well nigh unreadable when first discovered and written on various media that required a laborious process of decryption and transcription, they found an implicit logic in internalizing its suggestive axis of secrecy and concealment. It was not only the textual content that appealed to the artists but also the support -- newspaper margins, calendar boxes, napkins, pieces of envelopes, and so forth --that attracted their interest. Deschamps says: “These pieces of paper were later scanned and deciphered to find texts that recalled Walser’s wanderings in nature. We used this idea of micro, macro often used in our practices (translation of a form in another material) to compose the works in the show.”

Marie-Michelle Deschamps, Swan #3, acrylic folding board, plexiglass, carbon paper, 25,4 x 35,5 cm, 2018

False says: “In fact, in its original form, the plot of this text looks like a fragment of textile - pushing us to reflect on the similarities and differences between text and fabric, and where they meet: the line.” 

One might further hazard that Walser’s longstanding preoccupation with the identity and role of the writer fed their own ruminations concerning the identity and role of the artist. Walser certainly investigated the canons of artistic authenticity and the importance of secrecy in maintaining the life of the spirit and this must have been consequential for both False and Deschamps.

Both artists valorise a “private language” practised daily and specimens of each -- a small collage of False and Deschamps’ watercolour newspaper at the entrance of the gallery -- set the tone for the chiasm logic and hegemony of the line that grounded the whole exhibition. Deschamps’ abstract practice is anchored in a daily practice of watercolour in which each tremulous mark has a fluid trace and aura that invariably envelop the viewer, as is the case here with "Better Times" (2017). The breath taking delicacy of these watercolours should be noted.

The juxtaposition of Deschamps’ "M for water" (porcelain, 2018) et "Sans-titre" (porcelain, 2018) and False’s "Forme prédéfinie" (ink jet impression on vinyl, 2017), created a hectic maelstrom of signs that is also a secret maze and one that must be negotiated by the viewer carefully and over time in order to “decrypt” sundry meanings -- much as the cached narrative of Walser’s micrograms had to be meticulously enlarged and decoded. 

Marie-Michelle Deschamps, Untitled, porcelain, 2018 and Coquilles, porcelain, 2018

Deschamps’ work has always hovered restlessly somewhere between abstraction and figuration, suggestively assembling and dismantling provisional matrices of meanings in which it is the viewer who is complicit in deconstructing her linguistic cues while connecting all the semiotic dots. The transparency and closure and transitional status of language-related signifying structures lie at the heart of this work. 

In recent exhibitions in Montreal at Battat Contemporary (now closed) and Darling Foundry, Deschamps was inspired by the figure of Louis Wolfson, whose 1970 book, Le Schizo et les langues recounts his hatred of his mother tongue, English, and the elaborate linguistic codes he developed to translate and efface it. Deschamps paid homage to his endeavour by translating fragments of Wolfson’s life and writings into various sound, sculpture and text works.

Similarly here, Deschamps demonstrates a sensitive attention to Walser, anchored in harvesting leftover carbon paper scraps from her studio to create a kind of collector’s cabinet of genus folders of scraps sorted by taxonomic family and which retain traces of previous templates.

Éléonore False employs fragmented images that she subjects to transformative processes like scanning, photocopying, enlargement, and so forth. When exhibited in a space, the images appear flat but achieve a provocative frontality that has been called a “sort of third dimension”. This third dimension, which exists only in the present tense of the viewer’s experience, allows for the free play of postural models and gestures that are almost choreographic in their mien. 

Marie-Michelle Deschamps and Éléonore False Installation view at Diagonale, Montreal, 2018.

False's abiding interest in the linear motifs of nature and  sundry processes inspired by the rituals of braiding, assembly and embracing fibres finds its dialogical counterpart in Deschamps’s preoccupation with writing and notions of layout and incision. In the Diagonale exhibition, the relatable practices of these artists meet across a litany of lines: cuts, cracks and creases. The point of intersection is the poetic heart of the exhibition. Where False manipulates her images in diverse ways, Deschamps also subjects her metal plates to similar physical manipulations that still resonate with the integrity of the original scraps of paper which inspired them. 

To return to the importance of Walser’s micrography and pencil method for these artists, his peripatetic walks act as a common thread within the exhibition. Notational wanderings across and through a given environment suggest a labyrinth in which the viewer is encouraged to follow in the artists’ footsteps, with the line, the linear inscription itself, as the Ariadne’s thread that allows us free passage to the interior of their bodies of work and subsequent egress.

Deschamps’s uniquely stripped-down abstraction is inordinately eloquent for being so reduced and finds its perfect dialogical pairing in False’s eloquent imagistic dishevelment. Their shared alembic is a kind of synchronous/diachronic distillation -- in a culture ruled by appearances and excess -- and one that points towards the poetry and provocation of  private languages poised at the limits of interpretation, an intimate plenum that preserves what remains untranslatable as the worthiest of mysteries. WM


James D. Campbell

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.

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