Over a prolific fifty-year career, Yvonne Lammerich has explored alternative outlooks in painting, and yet, surprisingly, she remains underrated in many Canadian art surveys. Nevertheless, with the pictorial skills that she has amassed since the 1970s, she has successfully undertaken the rigorous task of assessing painting’s relationship with space and time, in order to decouple the Western gaze from pictorial modes of representation.
The title of Lammerich’s latest solo show – Palimpsests – attests to the culmination of her decades-long research. Held at Occurrence in Montreal, the 2022 exhibition incorporated earlier bodies of work as prelude to her new paintings. Indeed, Abitation 1608 (2008) was created fourteen years before and first shown at Trianon Gallery in Alberta. This three-dimensional architectural model was built in reference to a seventeenth-century sketch by Samuel de Champlain of his trading fort in Quebec City. By directly transposing the drawing’s skewed perspective into the physical space of her architectural model, Lammerich was able to highlight the levels of abstraction at play in Champlain’s pictorial representations when he transcribed volumes onto flat surfaces.
As a process involving the reuse of existing documents and artefacts, the deployment of this work as palimpsest becomes an essential tool for invoking the multiplicity of layered experiences in contemporary life. Champlain’s bias as a cartographer is noticeable in his original drawing, and Lammerich’s training as a painter materializes in her own rendition; the two visions combine in Abitation 1608 and ultimately convey the hybrid ways by which people navigate the world today.
The strategies of overlapping and of conflating illusory and actual space have persisted over most of Lammerich’s studio practice.
Following this overture, the next part of the show features large-scale black-and-white works, such as Now (2019) and Now Extended (2020), that occupy entire walls of the gallery, filling visitors’ field of vision with exploded perspectives. Although Lammerich’s painted shapes mimic the graphical techniques of spatial mapping, their outlines lead to too many vanishing points to faithfully depict a singular vista. She further exacerbates the propensity to cover multiple grounds by adding to her paintings actual volumes that sprout from the flat canvases into the viewer’s space. A triad of medium-scale colour paintings and volumes, sampling key compositions in Western art history against aesthetic traditions in India, Russia, and Japan, completes the exhibition.
The strategies of overlapping and of conflating illusory and actual space have persisted over most of Lammerich’s studio practice. Shown at the very first Quebec City biennale, Problems of Knowing (2000) featured a wall sequence that progressively morphs a row of school desks and chairs from pictorial flatness to high relief in actual space. Lammerich uses a similar approach in her 2008 installations Belief 1 and Belief 2, in which she cuts out shapes from separate panels, which she then folds, respectively, into a three-dimensional chair and table. Likewise, an earlier piece entitled Glasswork (1994) consisted of sheets of glass with parallelograms painted on them, sitting on a floor panel to connect the horizontal plane underneath with the vertical plane of the wall by casting shadows behind the transparent surfaces.
From this evolving corpus transpires a visual experience of space and time that differs from the perception of place in sculpture and from that of duration in cinema or other time-based media. Lammerich often creates illusory space in her pictorial representations by borrowing from local drafting conventions to translate abstract forms into figures – conventions that change from one culture to another. Thus, she reveals that iconographic artifices such as light and shadow effects, foreshortenings, and, especially, perspective rely heavily on a system of common beliefs to convey shared meaning.
And yet, contemporary Western ways of understanding pictures seem stuck in Giorgio Vasari’s conception of the fixed and singular point of view, inherited from Renaissance perspective. For Lammerich, this homogenized outlook parallels the monotheism of Christian religion, in contrast to artworks in polytheistic civilizations such as ancient Rome or medieval Japan, which often incorporate multiple views. She best demonstrated this theory in her academic research by observing a mural in the Ixion Room, situated in the House of the Vetti in the archeological site of Pompeii. Instead of converging on a single point of view, the room’s wall decorations accommodate multiple vanishing points; viewers may jump from one to another as they walk across the room, thus experiencing spatial cognition from a two-dimensional image.
In this sense, Lammerich has dedicated her career to challenging reductive modes of viewing that remain indoctrinated in a homogenizing paradigm. Instead, her paintings embrace a worldview in which contemporary culture is experienced from multiple entanglements between past production and present experiments, embracing multiple historical references and geographical conditions, so her artworks on time and space are continuously in flux and heterogeneous, gathering new visual knowledge that remains trans-historical in scope and trans-cultural in nature.
1.Lammerich’s doctoral dissertation in art history, completed in 2008, at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), was on the relationship between systems of beliefs and cognitive structures
Palimpsests: polychronic folding + unfolding
Occurrence, espace d’art et d’essai contemporains, Montreal
March 11—April 16, 2022