“For Every Crypt There’s a Passion. For Every Pension There’s A Prisoner”
April 14 – May 15
916 Ontario Est, apartment 320
By THEA MCLACHLAN, June 2022
There are tulips, dying, slightly brown at the edges. Demanding observation, their eyelids droop toward the table on which they sit. Placed to decorate Espace Maurice—located in a third floor loft in Montreal’s Gay Village and run by Marie Ségolène—they adorn the recent show: "For Every Crypt There’s a Passion. For Every Pension There’s a Prisoner." For me, this exhibition, featuring paintings by Julien Parant-Marquis and poetry from Jeffrey Grunthaner, is about the proximity between horror and beauty, and the construction of a more fluid, formless notion of self: an identity that stretches to be less brittle, less sharp, always blurring blurring blurring.
At Maurice, which is named after jeweller and artist Maurice Brault, Parant-Marquis’s paintings evince a delicate haziness, showing abstract shapes that may be teeth, skeletons, or the inside of flowers, painted precisely yet unerringly out of focus using oils. Dents-de-scie (2021) has a caustic dark background. Painted over the top in a vomit green, with reds that drift between unsaturated pink and dwindling embers, are sharp pyramidal forms which point up, and curvy tendrils pointing down, overlapping slightly. Chênaie (2021) uses reds and yellows to create an ex-ray anatomical form: there's a circle at the base from which yellow thorns jut out. A central tract from which red spikes grow.
And there are also other objects in the room. Part of Mordre le mordu (2021-22) is framed, on the ground, by a wooden box of soil. Over on the radiator, by the window, there's a set of teeth sitting in a pot of soil, with two tongues inside. A few of Grunthaner’s poems hang on the walls. A poem titled There’s Not Even Anything to Think About is framed somberly like a degree in a dentist’s office. Another poem, Without Reflexive Thought, is printed on A4 paper and tacked to a wall. They Were Not the Mod Squad is affixed to a jutting corner, laminated and slightly smudged. Ever After We Had Larks is handwritten. Grunthaner asked Ségolène, who curated the show, to find objects that responded to the poem: the flotsam of this search—a gold goblet with bits of petunia seeds, a fish skeleton, an onion bulb beginning to sprout—also occupies the room.
The exhibition snarls and softly smiles. Looking at Parant-Marquis’s paintings involves looking at something unbearable, from close up: a diminutive menace. The fuzziness makes the paintings seem cute, friendly, dainty; but their pointiness and resemblance to teeth suggests danger and violence. The works evoke a sense of proximity between things of beauty and things that cause pain, and the unreliability of our judgement concerning what is threatening—what may frighten or cause a tightening in the stomach—and what is not. I mean that the symbolism associated with vulnerability and softness (whatever is small, delicate, quiet) are constructed and inaccurate markers of people and things that are in fact vulnerable and in need of care. This effect is, in part, a function of viewing things from up close. When looking closely at someone’s face, you might see only hard edges, rivulets of scarring, pockmarks. Leaning back, however, that same face can shimmer with softness and beauty. The nearness between the viewer and the images depicted in Parant-Marquis’s paintings is alarming, and can transform an ordinary flower into something far more ominous: something that you want to recoil from rather than cradle.
In the text accompanying the show, Ségolène references George Bataille’s notion of formlessness and its development by Rosalind E. Krauss, Meyer Shapiro and Yves Alain Bois in their 1996 exhibit at the Centre Pompidou: “L’informe: mode d’emploi.” The formless is an anti-concept committed to art that declassifies and undoes vertical structures of form, definition and genre. Ever After We Had Larks, one of Grunthaner’s poems, is handwritten in pencil onto a wall. According to Ségolène, Grunthaner was resistant to his own handwriting being there so he, first, wrote it out by hand, which was then transcribed by Parant-Marquis, and, finally, that transcription was traced onto the wall. This tantalising evasiveness steers the show toward an exploration of formlessness in the construction (or de-construction) of identity.
In his poem, The Whole Static Escalade, Grunthaner writes of “A kind of broiling mist / from / which there’s no / growing- / out-" In another, There’s Not Even Anything to Think About, he refers to “A jelly lurking in the / Head of evening sky.” And in Without Reflexive Thought, he writes of a “pitch black abyss of stellar / ocean shore.” These images—a broiling mist, a jelly in the evening sky, an abyss of ocean shore—situated alongside Parant-Marquis’s bleary colours make me think of Jackie Wang’s concept of oceanic feeling, which she writes about in Oceanic Feeling & Communist Affect. There she describes oceanic feeling as “the illumination of an already-existing communalism and the direct experience of our embeddedness in the world." It offers a notion of the self committed instead to interconnectedness. “Perhaps … during those moments one experiences the 'oceanic,' it becomes possible to imagine oneself as embedded in a constellation.”
It's definitely spring. Socially, there's a spilling out. This act of spillage, of an unburdening from the rigours of form and identity, animates the show. The air smells sweet and cute and new—rife with decaying wafts of indole, like the tulips dying on Ségolène’s table. "For Every Crypt There’s A Passion. For Every Pension There’s a Prisoner" seems to fit this moment. In The Lark Is An Aphid, a poem that wasn’t hung at Maurice but is featured in the chapbook accompaying the exhibition, Grunthaner ends: “Everything’s a mess.” WM