Standing in the Shadow of the Obvious
Axenéo7 Gallery, Gatineau, QC
One can sense the weight of an object without even having to hold it. Something’s heaviness is ingrained in memory – the weight of materials, the inherit power of materials, or the emotional and political charge they carry can have profound meaning. For her first major solo exhibition In the Shadow of the Obvious, Caroline Monnet produced all new work at AXENÉO7, a process that allowed her to respond viscerally to questions around land, government, and missing and murdered Indigenous women. The exhibition layout, akin to a journey, but also espousing the allure of an investigation, created a cathartic experience for the artist and the viewers.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, there have been many creative and critical responses to the missing and murdered Indigenous women – REDress Project, Walking with Our Sisters and the Faceless Dolls Project – certainly borne out of frustration to a very slow-moving inquiry and lack of public outcry. As one enters the exhibition, three T-shaped concrete columns weigh heavily in the space, strategically placed so that they face, through the large gallery window, the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada head office across the creek. The imposing columns, weakened by second-hand clothing mixed into the concrete, fray before our eyes: they are stand-ins for the imperialistic and colonial foundation of Canada. Titled Mythologies post-industrielles (Post-Industrial Mythologies), and placed evocatively beside a traditional sledge (travois), the work makes apparent that reconciliation demands the dismantling of government structures and institutions which have for far too long oppressed First Peoples on Turtle Island.
Situated in a former industrial factory, AXENÉO7 has regularly encouraged in situ proposals that point to various aspects of its location, building and history. The gallery itself, on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin nation, is enfeebled by displaying over ten tons of concrete objects throughout its spaces. An oblong doorway, not unlike the shape of the columns, leads us to the second gallery space, where a 1,000-pound cube dangles precariously from the ceiling, only inches from the floor, in total suspension. It jarringly interferes with the video projected behind it, of Monnet pulling a sledge from AXENÉO7 to the Outaouais river, with a 250-pound cube of ice filled with discarded clothing. As the Summer heat melts away the cube, thawed garments leave a trail, or rather, make an impermanent trace.
Perplexing yet serene busts are displayed on one side of the gallery, lightly lit like candles, simply titled Christine, Maisy, Shannon and Abigail, made of used skirts of various materials such as sequins and golden-threaded rayon, and filled with concrete. The names are of the missing, Maisy and Shannon from the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg community not far away, where Monnet’s own mother is from. This homage to these girls and women may be the beginning of a much larger-scale work to commemorate all the known Indigenous women missing or murdered in Canada. One cannot even fathom the scale and scope of these figures, let alone put it into to form.
In the third gallery, Monnet collaborated with acclaimed American street artist Mark Jenkins to produce a life-size replica of her body, made of concrete and frayed jeans, the face covered in blue beading, the stomach ripped open like a wound, but still standing, defiantly facing forward. The political and the personal collide in the final parts of the exhibition, as the artist is represented literally carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, the weight of hundreds of years of oppression and subjugation, so hard on the mind and the body. What is habitually internalized is externalized, even materialized: the face is covered, but the wrenched guts are exposed, leaving us to wonder about the fate of so many women who are still missing, unknown, forgotten, abused, enslaved, or murdered, with no significant steps taken to bring justice and safety back to Indigenous peoples. Almost industrial in scale, the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, estimated by some to be over 4,000 over the last 50 years, necessitates unflinching political and critical responses. Caroline Monnet, for her first major solo exhibition, approaches this issue from many different angles, and connects it to the real world.
The foundations of institutions eventually erode, garments become threadbare over time, but stories cannot be lost when they are recounted - in her experimental investigations during residency, the artist was able to draw out the emotional charge from raw and manufactured materials. In the Shadow of the Obvious was a monumental commemoration, a protest piece and a durational performance, all at once. In this era of supposed reconciliation, the exhibition revealed all the contradictions of government, of its tenacious colonial legacies. After 50 years of systemic inaction, it is obvious the establishment needs to be gutted.
Text by Stefan St-Laurent
Exhibition view at Axenéo7 Gallery, Gatineau
Le buste de Maisy, Le buste de Shannon, Le buste de Shannon, Le buste de Tina, 2016
Concrete, mini skirt, steel plate
18″ x 12″ x 12″
Concrete, denim, glass beads,
60″ x 24″ x 24″
Concrete, mini skirt,
24″ x 24″ x 24″