Upon entering the exhibition space at Joe Project, we find a night scene. Specifically, it is an urban night scene that translates elements from the city in which we currently live. Within that unfolding night scene, a film plays as we hear the reel moving across the room. This work is the result of a collaboration, in the form of a dialogue between artists Maggy Hamel-Metsos and Alexandre Bouffard, whose practices reside within the realm of conceptual art. In thinking about this show, I am interested in considering the ways through which they translate their thoughts or philosophies into their work: How do we understand an artist’s practice beyond the exclusivity of the medium?

Alexandre Bouffard, Shell 1 (2023). Perforated vinyl on tempered glass, rubber, aluminum and steel hardware. Photo : William Sabourin. Courtesy of Joe Project

            Both Hamel-Metsos’s and Bouffard’s pieces can be read as spatial interventions that redefine the exhibition space while suggesting a reference to other instances of how to experience and exist in a place – in this case, the street. To bring the street into a gallery is a matter of rethinking not just exhibition design but also the way our bodies react to the stimuli that the street creates and thus act upon it. Metsos’s piece alludes to this notion of a body in action: she casts herself in front of the camera as she walks wearing high heels. The film reel delineates the walls of the gallery as it plays, while its length, measured in feet, portrays her walking actions, which take up the full frame.

            In Hamel-Metsos’s practice, the work (whole wide world, 2022, house of cards, 2023) is suggested as an interlocutor with the public, and it is within the framework of this conversation that the work exists as a piece. In this reflection about a practice, she considers the work to be more of a proposition that is not conceptually fixed and is therefore intrinsic to the materiality of the exhibition. At Joe Project, her piece suggests a reading of the mechanical functioning of memory as she traces the images inscribed in the linear footage with a lightbox and a moving apparatus that she built. As part of this experience, a fourth gallery wall was built to block the window views of the building on Chabanel in order to enhance the temporal experience of a night scene.

            Correspondingly, Bouffard’s piece features an architectural plan of a city engraved on large blocks of glass in dialogue with a street lamp. In his practice, the work emerges from the spatial staging of objects, as it instigates a conversation around the conception and execution of architecture. The gist of his practice can thus be read as an engagement with site-specific architectural gestures that inform the human body’s involvement with the built environment. 

Alexandre Bouffard, Shell 1 (détail) (2023). Perforated vinyl on tempered glass, rubber, aluminum and steel hardware.
Photo : William Sabourin. Courtesy of Joe Project

            In both pieces, the “reality” that is witnessed in the street is reorganized through a rendering of the city into a plan that waits to be folded or through the synchronicity of the walking steps with a metronome. In engaging with this act of reorganizing, the artists imply an investigation around broader notions such as the private and the public, the idea of scale, and the concepts of security and power. Apart from tracing a set of images as she thinks about the unfolding of memory through vision, Hamel-Metsos also speculates on how humans can be subjected to certain laws and the way in which we obey them. Through her orchestration of her steps in conjunction with the sound of the tempo that we hear, we are reminded that power is often performed through synchronism.

            Similarly, Bouffard’s glass structure reflects the waiting time that our bodies undergo as we wait in and around the glass shield of a bus-stop shelter. Within this instance of waiting, tension emerges as we become more aware of our surroundings. His piece creates a conversation around this awareness as he thinks about the communicative aspect of the advertisements that we consume in this idle time. This reading also feeds into the definition of Western cities as places that are shaped by consumerism and a fast pace. In juxtaposing the plan of a city against the architectural concept of a bus stop, which implies a moment of pause, Bouffard showcases an ability to translate space through time.

Maggy Hamel-Metsos, O.W.M.B (détail) (2023). Ektachrome film, galvanized steel, spools, sprockets, plexiglas, lights, motors, hardware and a metronome. Photo : William Sabourin. Courtesy of Joe Project

            By working collaboratively, Hamel-Metsos and Bouffard have created an exhibition of contrasts that, respectively, highlights the fragmentary aspects of a moving image and invites us to think about how we perceive an image when we are not moving. The work, once again, emerges as the result of an attempt to translate the meaning of space that is true to the artists. And it is perhaps within the parameters of this approach that we may be able to define such engagements with conceptual art.

            Aside from the many natures that the medium can take, the artists’ practices here revolve around their perception of the world and around how they engage with the public as they converse together about this repertoire of thoughts. The exhibition becomes a suggested script for stories that are embedded within and derive from the spatial elements of the gallery. Through the interchangeable meanings that they give to space by acknowledging and appropriating it, at each instance of exhibiting, a new translation device for the scripts and thoughts is constructed.

The French translation of this article is also published in the 273 issue of Vie des arts – Winter 2024 and can be consulted here.