Water, Fire, Earth and Air: Isabelle Hayeur, Pascal Grandmaison, and Martin Bordeau at Arsenal Toronto

Intrigued by news of a yet another exhibition space opening near Bloor and Lansdowne, we headed up to Arsenal Toronto, a massive new gallery located on a dusty dead-end street across from an industrial strength scrapyard. The building, a nondescript metal box, bears no sign of what’s inside, except for a casually taped “45” on one door, accompanied by a helpful arrow and the words “Division Gallery” (not, as one might expect, the words “Arsenal” or “Toronto”). Galerie Division and René Blouin, partners in the much larger Arsenal Montreal space for which the Toronto branch is an outpost, are commercial dealers representing the likes of national and international artists including Allison Schulnik (Los Angeles) and Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber (Winnepeg), as well as established Montreal-based artists such as Pascal Grandmaison and Manon De Pauw. (As noted in the Toronto.com article on Arsenal Toronto, the latter two artists are also locally represented by Diaz Contemporary and Jessica Bradley Projects, respectively; it would be interesting to know what the communication has been between the dealers regarding potential future sales.)

Arsenal Toronto’s inaugural exhibitions include a solo show of painting by Martin Bordeau in the smaller front gallery, and a group exhibition in the expansive main space. Simply titled Photographie, the group show features work by Isabelle Hayeur, Alain Paiemant, Manon De Pauw, Michel De Broin, Gwenaël Bélanger, and Pascal Grandmaison, and is a featured exhibition of the CONTACT Photography Festival currently running through May. The six artists, all trained in the 1990s and based in Montreal, share an interest in working within conceptual frameworks and developing hybrid photographic practices influenced by digital technology. For this post, we take a closer look at the underwater worlds of Isabelle Hayeur, the fire-consumed universe within Pascal Grandmaison’s photographs, and the mediated landscapes of painter Martin Bordeau.

Isabelle Hayeur’s Chemical Coast is part of an ongoing series of underwater images she has been making since 2008. Although she eschews the pristine waters and pursuit of colourful sea life that comprise the great bulk of this kind of photography, her images are no less  compelling or wondrous. Drawn to troubled waters near and far from home, Hayeur often captures both the cause and normally hidden effects of environmental degradation in her two-part images, where the water’s surface appears as a softly permeable horizon line. Murky yet luminous, Hayeur’s desolate underworlds are apocalyptic portents existing just below the surface of our everyday lives, captivating with their strange beauty even as they threaten to engulf us within a claustrophobic, dying world.

Pascal Grandmaison’s series of black and white images are sized at a comparatively smaller scale, encouraging close viewing. Geologic and timeless in appearance, the photographs look as if they could have been made on the moon, or even more fantastically, document the handiwork of some advanced alien race able to rip gaping holes in the fabric of space-time. However, those surprising and ragged openings of seemingly infinite depth are in fact fragments of an image embedded within the ash and ember remains of its own burning—no alien race, just humans playing with fire. But through this alchemical process, Grandmaison has wrought a poetic series of images rich with associations between our elemental natures and our ancient origins—as well as our inevitable end. Ultimately, all that will be left once we are gone is in his images: deep space, and so much dust.

In the front gallery, the atmospheric paintings by Martin Bordeau have a softly photographic quality, making them a interesting complement to the group exhibition in the main space. Just as Hayeur’s waterscapes present a vision of reality captured by the camera’s partial submersion, and Grandmaison’s spacescapes give form to conceptual realities born of fire and photography, Bordeau’s landscapes are mediated by the presence of a screen. Physically represented by an exquisitely rendered and realistically detailed grid over shades of green and grey, the screen evokes childhood memories of pressing a face to rain, feeling the impression of wire on skin, inhaling the scent of metal mixed with the sweetness of the outside air. Viewing the world through a screen implies a sense of longing for and separation from the other side which never quite goes away.

At the same time, Bordeau references the metaphorical divide between our selves and the experiences we seek through the mediating screens of televisions, computers, and smart phones. Questioning the subtly insidious effects that the now ubiquitous screens may have upon our understanding of reality, Bordeau presents us with an almost digital rendering of painted pictures that can be read at many levels, but paradoxically never fully resolve into a definitive image. Eluding our attempts to pin them down, Bordeau’s images impress upon us the evasive nature of information that comes at us through the progressively more invasive yet increasingly invisible screens of contemporary life, the emotional residue of which bears an uncanny resemblance to that childhood longing for escape, or as Bordeau’s titles suggest, the isolation that moments in between (Attente, or wait) or out of time (Insomnie) can make us feel.

See the Arsenal Toronto website (under construction) for hours and information

See more work by Galerie Division artists on their website
See more work by René Blouin artists on their gallery website

See more work by Isabelle Hayeur on her website
See more work by Pascal Grandmaison on his website

For information and more images from the Photographie exhibition as part of Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, see the festival website

See the Toronto.com article on Arsenal Toronto, here

artwork and images:

Isabelle Hayeur, Chemical Coast 2, 2011, inkjet print mounted on aluminum, 51 x 72 inches; Manatee Drive 1, 2011, inkjet print mounted on aluminum, 49 x 60 inches, courtesy Galerie Division

Pascal Grandmaison, image from Void View series, 2010, inkjet print, 22.5 x 15 inches

Martin Bordeau, Sans Titre, 2011, oil on canvas; Attente, 2012, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches; Insomnie 2, oil on canvas, 24 x 29.875 inches, courtesy Galerie Division

All exhibition photos of Arsenal Toronto by Shani K Parsons

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