chapter  C
158 Pages

C

The extraordinary force of Genevie`ve Cadieux’s work derives from the visual coherence and breadth with which her often very large creations repeatedly bring corporeal intimacy and absorptive anxiety into an inescapably public forum. They engulf and destabilize the viewer through simultaneous attraction and repulsion, while con-

currently calling into play multiple resonances around both aesthetic and social issues. Born in Montreal in 1955 but raised in Ottawa where she obtained a BA with a specialisation in visual arts from the University of Ottawa, she sometimes referred to the influence which her father’s repertory cinema had upon her tendency to visualize her works in large-screen filmic format, or as installations in often darkened rooms. For example, in the

early installation Voices of Reason/Voices of Madness, 1983, as much as in the recent video Paramour, 1998-1999, the viewer is offered close-ups of female heads during an endlessly repeated fragmentary event, pregnant with an implied narrative of psychic torment. In the first work, the viewer steps before a color slide projection of a woman’s head with only the eyes lighted, staring at the opposite wall, where another woman’s head, in a black-and-white projection, gradually dissolves into a milky focus and an anguished expression. Suddenly, the viewer is shocked by a loud shot, and the face gradually returns to focus, to begin again. In the second, the woman anxiously asks again and again, ‘‘Haven’t you ever loved a woman? Haven’t you ever desired a woman? Not once, not for a single moment? Never, ever?’’ to be answered each time by a male voice from behind the viewer, ‘‘No, never.’’ However, Cadieux’s work cannot be enlisted to

feminism, as almost any label tends to oversimplify the range and depth of her references. The woman’s questions in Paramour, for example, are derived from a text of Marguerite Duras, an appropriation of literary sources which Cadieux had previously displayed in La Blessure d’une cicatrice ou Les Anges (The Wound of a Scar or The Angels), 1987. In that large diptych, the left panel contained a painted image of Le Petit Prince, hero of SaintExupe´ry’s famous children’s book, his features effaced and with the inscription below ‘‘Voila` le meilleur portrait que plus tard, j’ai re´ussi a` faire de lui’’ [Here is the best portrait that I was later able to make of him], while the right panel reproduced one of the most famous of the Storyville Portraits by E.J. Bellocq-a prostitute seen from the rear, her head scratched out in the emulsion. In Cadieux’s work, she seems to be drawing a butterfly on the wall. This juxtaposition, taken from two volumes collected by Cadieux in what she called her ‘‘archives,’’ combined and amended both literary and visual sources in a duality which problematized portraiture and identity through metaphors of inadequacy and scarring, and the conflation of child, prostitute, and angel. That Cadieux was suggesting an implicit damage or disability when contemplating the sensitive self seems confirmed by another work which also used the Petit Prince quotation, A fleur de peau (On Edge or Skin Deep), 1987. There, the left panel of the diptych reproduced the quotation in Braille, while the right was a clouded mirror; a blind viewer would not see a reflection in the mirror, while a sighted viewer would not understand the Braille unaided, and neither could easily decode the fragmentary or

elusive view of self, based as much on suggestible memory as on immediate experience, into which they were being drawn. These examples also foreground two other

defining formal features of Cadieux’s work-its multi-media range, including a crucial use of often punning titles, and its intimate focus on bodily damage or enlargement as an evocative mechanism. She frequently uses blown-up scars or parts of the body or skin contextualized by positioning with landscape or architectural elements. For example, the instability of meaning in titles such as La Feˆlure, au choeur des corps, recalls the postmodern insistence on language games, and is matched with the surreal juxtaposition of two giant lips kissing between two healed scars. This intense interest in the body’s pleasures and the marks of corporeal pain, linked to a size which engenders a sense of both overwhelming force and of powerless voyeurism, reflects other postmodern fascinations. This work, constructed at room size and displayed as Canada’s contribution at the Venice Biennale of 1990, confirmed Cadieux’s international stature. She has been exhibited extensively in 13 countries in Europe as well as in Canada, the United States, Japan, Brazil, and Australia, and she has taught in France (1993-1994, 1996), Spain (1997), and in the United States (1998) as well as Canada. Together with some other Canadians such as Jeff Wall and Evergon, she helped to define and influence a tendency among young Canadian art photographers to use large color photographic imagery to construct ironic or surreal worlds. However, no other Canadian has so effortlessly

moved between sculpture, painting, photography, and video formats, appropriations, installations with sound, and classic references to diptych, triptych, and serial forms, all often connected to landscapes, interior or exterior architecture or specific sites. She came to photography later in her artistic training, underlining that, fundamentally, the presence of the artist is felt in her works more in the concept, which determines medium and form, than in the physical mark. This allows her to roam between a very precise realism (e.g., Elle, 1993, a cast of her mother’s arm) and an evocative abstraction. The texture of the pores of the skin in many of her works can seem indistinguishable from the grain of photographic emulsion, an effect she admits is deliberate. She also calls upon a range of previous classical genres, from nudes to portraiture to landscape, set within a range of social contexts, from medicine to technology; but they are created usually for a museum space which can tolerate and

assimilate the works according to that oxymoron, conventional avant-gardist criteria. In portraiture, already referred to above, she has made deft use of her own family members to explore by suggestion themes of attraction and alienation, and of aging. In three of her most well-known works, Hear Me With Your Eyes of 1989, Family Portrait of 1991, and La Voie lacte´e of 1992, she has used, respectively, her actress sister in a triptych which revealed her at two intense moments some 10 years apart; an installation of three large free-standing lightboxes featuring enigmatic details of her father, mother, and sister turned away from each other at the corners of a triangle; and a billboard-size view of her mother’s lush mouth installed on the roof of the Muse´e d’art contemporarin inMontreal. Except for Family Portrait, these works are not, at first, evident as portrait statements; nonetheless, their effectiveness depends on the viewer’s sense of identification with the physical and psychological presence, even the suffering, of another which underlies the impact of portraiture. Cadieux’s work has also been likened to porno-

graphy (e.g., Loin de moi, et pre`s du lointain [Far From Me, Near to the Distance] 1993, a photograph showing a flaccid penis) although the only work to be censored to date is Blue Fear, which contrasted an older man’s naked back set against a pair of large staring eyes. This work so disturbed the older citizens of Plymouth, England, that, in 1992, the work was rejected for exhibition; notably, it was to have been installed on Plymouth Hoe, a seaside recreational site, not in a museum. However, the body does fascinate her, very like photographic emulsion, which is also sensitive and which makes a record; it is like the body which ages and, in Cadieux’s words, ‘‘qui enregistre le temps, la peau qui enregistre les blessures’’ [and which records time, skin which records wounds].