A tandem exhibition combining the talents of two Quebec artists at the forefront of contemporary art is a challenge to stage, and an equal challenge to view. With Jacynthe Carrier’s latest video Les Eux playing in one room of the gallery, and Jon Rafman’s Remember Carthage in another, the viewer is being pulled in two very different directions, as the visual expression of each artist is highly original.

Carrier’s is a stylized meditation on the body and the landscape, composed almost entirely of close-ups. Played out by a group of people of varying ages, jostling and shuffling in a tight circle, where each gesture carries a personal as well as shared emotion. The «they» of her title are not those of Sartre’s enfer, but rather co-players in an allegorical fable told in slow motion choreography, an existential reflection on the nature of relationships. Hands touch faces, shirt collars are adjusted, shoulders stoop, feet dig in moist sand, bodies make contact and move away. There is an endless ebb and flow to this silent drama set against a pale sky and barren vista. An undercurrent of comfort vs. discomfort animates the video as these randomly assembled personages attempt to communicate without the use of words. Watching them is at once uplifting and heart-breaking. There is a tacit complicity between the actors, one we are not privy to, but are welcome to partake in. The tones of Carrier’s palette are quiet, subdued, the clothing casual, the landscape usurping its own silent presence. Winner of the 2012 Prix Pierre Ayot, she has a MFA from Concordia University and has shown her work at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, as well as abroad. In Les Eux she continues her unique exploration of the medium of video, and live performance.

Jon Rafman is perhaps better known of the two, famous for exhibiting found images from Google Street View 9-Eyes. A Montreal artist and filmmaker, he takes a creative and original look at digital media and technology; Remember Carthage is his latest film, produced in collaboration with writer and video artist Rosa Aiello. Its visual aesthetic is diametrically different from that of Carrier, and not only because it is animation vs. live action. Rafman’s imagery is drawn from the world of video games; footage sourced from games like Second Life, and for those familiar with it, Remember Carthage must be quite an odd experience. Fantastical scenery at once recognizable and alien, or rather virtual, is the backdrop to an epic tale of a voyage to exotic lands. Mixing history and fantasy, with a touch of the surreal, Rafman narrates a somewhat disjointed first-person journey, where alienation and loneliness hold sway and melancholy reigns. From Las Vegas to Tunisia, the film runs on a loop, like an endless graphic novel. But there is an underlying message behind the seemingly purely creative pursuit, drawing attention to the pervasive nature of digital media, its ability to make history seem at once accessible – through archival data – and foreign. The film’s protagonist is equally soon lost, unable to distinguish between real and simulated sites. Deeper issues arise from this precarious state of being, questions of death and rebirth, but ultimately, as with any art, the sense is left to the viewer – alone, in a group of strangers, huddled behind a dark curtain, and just as lost.

Tying the two screenings, in a kind of visual segue, large stills from Carrier’s video are exhibited in the central space of the gallery. Her imagery lends itself superbly to this treatment, the close-ups already familiar from the film, taking on a painterly aura in a wall display. Carrier is an intuitive colourist, and there is lovely harmony in each frozen frame. In any guise, it is still art; in the case of Rafman, it is, well, virtual.

Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montréal
August 28 – October 5, 2013