Le 5 avril 2010
Entrevue avec Sanita Fejzic , Étienne Gélinas.
Dwelling in a world of standardized space
Monday, April 5, 2010
Story by Sanita Fejzic

About a year ago, when I was editor of Muse magazine at the Canadian Museums Association, I visited the Musée d’art de Joliette, about an hour’s drive from Montréal, and the eye-opening exhibition Burrow. The exhibition made an unforgettable impression on me. It brought together works that explore everyday existence—including the ways in which we live, design, and perceive our domestic and territorial spaces—by four Canadian artists: Janice Kerbel, Adriana Kuiper, Liz Magor, and Samuel Roy-Bois.

According to curator Shannon Anderson of the Oakville Galleries, “the Burrow project

[was] an opportunity to think and ask questions about the spaces we inhabit and how architecture can represent psychological incarceration when it isolates people.”

I feel the presence of similar questions in the recent interpretations of space and architecture by Gatineau’s Étienne Gélinas.

“Architecture and the fundamental human need for shelter and the standardization of space in our society has always fascinated me,” Gélinas told me in a recent interview.

Using rich textures and heavy layers, this engineer-turned-artist, examines the paradox of our culture’s valorization of individualism against the backdrop of a standardized society. Gélinas’ investigation of the visible codes such as the structural space of architecture on grand and small scales take a unique form in his paintings and sculptures: he presents a world full of numbers and measurements juxtaposed with layers of colour and movement. The result is calculated structure in an obviously non-linear vision of society.

Gélinas, a versatile bricoleur, recently moved from canvas to paper, creating collages that integrate architectural drawings, mechanical plans, and a form of technical drawing via engravings in paste. His recent sculpture, boite 3 quart, as with many of the pieces in his Compositions series, pulls us into the discourse of living in codified space.

Gélineas is currently represented in a number of private art galleries in Ottawa and across the country. His work was among the most recent additions to the City of Ottawa’s fine art collection. Here are some highlights of my conversation with him.

I see your work within a binary framework. It evokes a sensitive balance between control and chaos. Do you look at your work dialectically?

I would not say my main goal is to be a structuralist, but I am interested in showing the relationship between the mirror, which is the present—the right now —and the delay response in seeing what is behind the mirror. So there is a dialectical narrative and contrast in that sense. There is a lot of personal experience in my work. It is almost autobiographical; especially in terms of my view on what I feel are sometimes absurd aspects of society. My personal story is the motivation behind my work and while I don’t concentrate on how others may perceive that, my 2006 series on clowns was an exploration of how society can alienate and stigmatize certain groups of people. In this case, I was using clowns to show that we all have many faces: the face we chose to show our loved ones, at work, and so on. So there is definitely a comparative element in there, whether it is control and chaos depends on the viewer.

One of the things you have done so well is to use mirror-like techniques as both reflection and transparency. Have you consciously worked variations of those two ways of seeing?

Yes, I try to have this mirror-effect because it accentuates even more my desired effect of texture. The viewer can literally see himself in the paintings. Initially this was not done on purpose, but once I realized it, I used it extensively. Human beings are part of my vision of space in society, so to see one’s own reflection makes sense. I use transparency as a means of creating thickness—to create a certain barrier between what I present (the background: architecture, space, math, geometry, which are all part of the central plan) and what the viewer interprets. This mirror-like barrier allows the spectator to look at my work from different perspectives: “I can see it, but I am not sure; it’s close, but far away.

Comp.169 (detail), 2010, mixed media, 18″ x 54″

Why the strong influences of architecture and texture in your work?

I find it interesting: details and forms and the drawings that come out of texture. It gives viewers different visual lenses—depth, shadow. If you look from close or far it is not the same motif. Architecture is fascinating to me on many levels. I often reference architectural plans and the standardization of architectural models; it’s a way for me to show to which point we adopt according to certain protocols, norms, and codes. Each building, even if it’s not the same shape, works within the same framework of building norms, governmental norms or otherwise. Most of the plans I take are from condos, where you see hundreds of people living in the same space—an endless repetition of the same squares— and this goes back to the idea of human beings living in a repetitive, structural society of the same, a real paradox because we value individualism and strive to be unique.

Do you think of yourself as an artist-engineer or architect?

I see myself as a sort of hybrid, free to move between inventor, artist and engineer. There are others like this who influenced me. Belgian artist Panamarenco creates absurd and dysfunctional machines that look hyper-technological. You wonder what they are and what is their purpose. And the mechanic and aesthetic of these totally useless objects impress you at once. Panamarenco refers to engineers for technical aspects of his work and even if his creations are not practical, they are beautiful. Likewise, my mind is geared towards engineering and I think in terms of construction and conception. I think you can see that in my art.